Chapter 11: Love and Sexuality

The Spirit and the Forms of Love
by Daniel Day Williams

Chapter 11: Love and Sexuality

Sexuality prepares the way for human love, but, in order to pass from sexuality to love, an act of inversion, and of dying to the self is necessary (Jean Guitton).

Love and sexuality are linked in human experience, though sex is not love, and love is not always sexual. The loves which are linked with sexuality seem to be the extreme case of the ambiguity in human loves when they are judged in the light of agape. Sexual love has the power of ecstatic self-giving. At the same time it seems possessive, self-centred, demanding of immediate gratification, heedless of the self-denial and the dedication which goes with enlistment in the service of the Kingdom of God. The doctrine that agape fulfils the human loves has a critical test in interpreting the sexual life, not because of the earthiness of sexual love, but because of its power to drive the spirit in seeming disregard of God or neighbour.

Our purpose in this chapter is twofold; first, to understand why Christianity with its positive view of the goodness of the creation has come to a crisis in its understanding of sexuality; and second, to consider a theological view of sexual existence which sees its place in life which is fulfilled by the love of God.

There is a widespread revolt against traditional Christian standards of morality in sex. This revolt reflects a new consciousness of what sexuality is, and a conviction that the Christian tradition has misunderstood and rejected the creative function of sex. One Christian commentator remarks:

If sexuality seems to be marking the twentieth century with its stamp, it is certainly not that man has changed but simply that he has a different consciousness of sex, and has given it a place of its own in his scale of values.1

Jean Guitton has astutely observed the new situation. In the primitive state sex and love were on the plane of instinct. But when knowledge enters ‘consciousness has moved away from instinct’. He continues:

The intellect comprehends what life enjoys; much more than that, it apprehends the mystery of the mechanism. It is mistress of creation and of love. Formerly, even when the means for the control of life were known, they were screened by ignorance and secrecy. The nineteenth century dared to approach these forbidden shores; it defined the elements of a kind of positive sexology capable of totally transforming the economy of love, the status of the family, custom and even morality itself.2


How did Christianity get identified with a repressive, morbid, and banal attitude toward sexuality?

This history is especially puzzling when we recall the spiritual dignity which the Bible gives to man’s physical and mental powers. The creation is good. Men and women are made for one another, to be fruitful and replenish the earth, and to have dominion over it. The love, joy, and fidelity of sexual union furnish the most important biblical image for God’s faithfulness to his people. Both the Old Testament and the New reject an ascetic attitude toward the sexual life. The Song of Songs gives exquisite lyric expression to the beauty and delight of human love. Jesus blesses a wedding feast. Nowhere does he assign merit to sexual abstinence for its own sake. He does indeed teach the rigorous requirement for purity of motive; but there is forgiveness for those who sin in this area as in any other, and his severest judgments are reserved for the proud, the exploiters, and the self-righteous. St. Paul, for all his apparent negativism about sex in the Christian life, gives the fulfilment of married love the highest possible place by making it a parable of the union of Christ and his church. The body is the temple of the living God. For this reason, and for this alone, its members should not be misused, that is, ‘joined to a harlot’ (I Corinthians 6:16).

Yet there developed very early in the church a strain of asceticism which treated sexuality as a concession to the weakness of the flesh. Virginity was exalted as the highest way of life, and the conception of ‘merit’ was connected with sexual abstinence. St. Augustine teaches that the stain of original sin is transmitted through the sexual act. Some of the Greek Fathers, such as Gregory of Nyssa, say that God created Adam and Eve sexless and that the phrase ‘male and female created he them’ referred to a subsequent act necessitated by Adam’s disobedience. Apart from sin, propagation would have been by some harmless mode of vegetation.3

Some Christian commentators suggest that the biblical view of sex was corrupted by Greek dualism. Thus Reinhold Niebuhr remarks:

Perhaps the negative attitude is due to the influence of Platonic dualism, the distinction between man’s body and soul. If so, Christian sex ethics defies the truth — ostensibly its dearest truth — about the psychosomatic unity of man. Perhaps the eschatological element in biblical faith determines the negative attitude toward what was clearly a force of nature, but also though not so clearly, a force of the spirit.4

Paul Ricoeur takes a similar view. The original Christian cosmovital notion of the sacred was attacked by ‘orphic and gnostic dualism’ before it could create a culture equal to itself.

Suddenly man forgets he is ‘flesh’, indivisibly Word, Desire, and Image; he ‘knows’ himself as a separate Soul, lost and a prisoner in a body; at the same time he ‘knows’ his body as Other, an evil Enemy. This ‘gnosis’ of Soul and Body, and of Duality in general, infiltrates Christianity, sterilizes its sense of creation, perverts its confession of evil, and limits its hope of total reconciliation to the horizon of a narrowed and bloodless spiritualism.5

Both statements are relevant, but we should not conclude too soon that it was all a corruption of the biblical outlook. The question still arises, how did gnosticism and dualism infiltrate Christianity so easily if they are essentially alien to it? Ricoeur’s picture of man’s sudden forgetfulness of the link of body and soul is not too convincing. Would this happen just because a new philosophy was encountered?

Niebuhr and Ricoeur do indicate however where we should look for a source of the tendency in Christian thought about sexuality. The biblical understanding of life never had a chance to shape its own culture and ethic, and thus to create a context for sexuality within a Christian style of life. Ricoeur points out that the Christian view of the unity of body and mind had no opportunity to ‘create a culture for itself’. One might object this does not apply to the Hebrew community which had ample time to form its own culture. But the Hebraic ethic applied to one people for whom faith and ethics formed in principle an organic whole. The Christian church had to express its formative power in many cultures as it sought to create a universal community. This is much more complex than the regulation of the life of one people. It may well be that the Jewish community has so far achieved a more balanced and integral view of the sexual life than has Christianity.

The Christian community began as a small group expecting the end of history, and enjoying a certain indifference to the secular orders. It then became the religion of a world empire, having to maintain its integrity in the hellenistic world as it interpreted, borrowed, and adjusted to the values of a cosmopolitan culture. This is why Christianity has yet to develop the real significance of the view of sexuality, family-relationship, and human creativity which the Bible makes possible.

The Protestant Reformation attacked certain elements in the Catholic tradition, its exaltation of celibacy above marriage, its conception of the religious vocation as of greater merit than secular life with family responsibility. In Luther especially, and also, we note, in the early Puritans, we find a positive view of the life of married love as a glorification of God and its joy as a celebration of God’s goodness. On this point Roland Mushat Frye’s studies are valuable. He says:

In the course of a wide reading of Puritan and other Protestant writers in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, I have found nothing but opposition to this type of ascetic ‘perfection’.6

It should be clear by now that early Puritanism consciously taught the purity, legality, and even obligation of physical love in marriage. Whose bed is undefiled and chast pronounc’t’, as Milton wrote in his great marriage hymn (Paradise Lost, IV. 761) or, as the anonymous Office of Christian Parents puts it, two who are made one by marriage ‘may joyfully give due benevolence one to the other; as two musicall instruments rightly fitted, doe make a most pleasant and sweet harmonie in a well tuned consort’.7

While this corrects the popular notion of puritanism, we still must ask how the term ‘puritan’ acquired its repressive connotation. If in Protestantism we find acceptance of sexuality as a creative and pure aspect of human life and as finding its ultimate freedom and honour in married love, where has the tradition failed?

Part of the answer is found precisely in what the Puritans did not say. They had a high view of sexual fulfilment within marriage; but said little about sexuality in the whole life of the person. There is very little attention to infancy, adolescence, and preparation for marriage. There is nothing about the situation of those who cannot be married. This is like describing health with no reference to its conditions and development or to disease. There are two important factors which have restricted the development of an adequate view of sex. One implication of this silence and repression was that sexuality has no place or meaning outside of marriage. Everything else is defilement. Second, there was a conspiracy of silence as to how sexuality enters into human growth. One consequence has been the appalling failure of both church and home in sexual education. The unspoken assumption has been that sexuality has all problems solved within the bonds of marriage, and that nothing can or need be understood about it except in the rules for marriage. The consequences of this combination of repression and ignorance are too well known to need recounting here.

Walter Lippmann has suggested that the church was serving itself in providing narrow channels for sexual expression. It dammed up the emotional energies to bring them into the service of the institution.8 Of course this assumes that the sexual energies can be thus sublimated, but the relation of these energies to human creativity is an enormously complex question upon which we have little dependable light.

We see where a Christian theology of sex needs to begin. The question is the meaning of sexuality in human existence. We need a sexual ethic, but its valid principles can only be derived as we understand what we are dealing with.

The deficiency in Christian teaching in the area of sex is analogous to the theological reaction to the development of scientific knowledge. The Church never opposed science. Its doctrine of creation and faith in the dependability of God contributed to the rise of modern science, as Whitehead has persuasively shown.9 Yet the scientific method had to make its way against a heavy weight of ecclesiastical opposition. The relation between Christian faith and the scientific way of understanding nature involves many complex and unresolved issues, but the plain fact is that scientific understanding had to grow largely under secular auspices, with too little encouragement and understanding from the religious tradition.

Our need for understanding sexuality is in a somewhat similar case. Of course knowledge of sexuality requires more than scientific understanding, though it has its scientific and technological side. The modern exploration of sexuality has required anthropological, biological, psychological and literary investigation. The knowledge explosion and new freedom of communication have had profound effect. The Freudian revolution has altered the form of man’s self understanding. The Kinsey studies, for all their narrowing of attention to sex as biological function, have few parallels in man’s search for objective knowledge of himself. D. H. Lawrence can stand as the pioneer representative of those who have used the literary art to explore human emotion and to protest and prophesy against the repression and devaluation of the sexual life. Now the world of art, literature, motion pictures, is in a volcano-like eruption of sexual expression, exploitation, adventure, perversion, criticism and reflection.

We need not claim that some great new revelation has come out of alt this. it may be so, but that is not the point to be argued here. The critical matter for those who want to take a responsible position is how to participate in this new discussion of sexuality. Is this one realm where God is at work to reveal the meaning of love? Can we understand the spirit and forms of agape more deeply through insight into the sexual eros? is there Christian insight into sexuality through a reflection on the work of agape in the sexual life with its frustrations, idolatries, and creative powers? These are decisive theological questions.

If Christianity is to show the relevance of its doctrine of love to contemporary man it must make clear that in sex as in science the Christian view of the world is not confined to first century concepts. Christian anthropology can incorporate new experience and new knowledge. I have sometimes thought that if religious and moral teachers would only admit that sex is interesting, that it challenges to new discovery and is replete with unanswered questions, the confession would create a new climate for this critically important discussion. What is required is not fearful retreat into dogmatism, or instant acceptance of every new idea about sexuality; but an informed theological reconsideration of the nature of man, including the function of sexuality. Here I suggest only an outline of where I believe such a theological investigation would lead.


I offer five assertions about the place of sexuality in human life. These are all, I believe, implicit in the biblical view of man, but they need to be made explicit. It is not enough to treat sex as a mystery, which it is, or as something about which everyone knows, which in a sense it is. We need to achieve a more adequate view of the sexual experience in personal life. We can appeal only to our common understanding and intuitive judgment. This is neither science nor dogma, but a phenomenology of the sexual life. Whatever its validity or limitations, it represents the type of analysis which the theological tradition has for the most part avoided.

First, sexuality enters into the whole of man’s life and qualifies all human reactions. The discovery that this is so belongs in its empirically documented form to fairly recent times. In all human growth, in the relation of infants and parents, in the developing life of the child, and the search for identity with its special crisis in adolescence, in maturity and senescence, sexuality is in the core of the personality. Its energies, psychic qualities, disturbances, and affective tone may modify, alter, enrich, or debase everything in experience. This is not a doctrine of pan-sexuality as the secret of all human behaviour. We can recognize the omnipresence of sex without asserting its omnipotence.

This view does not commit us to any one theory of infantile sexuality such as the Freudian. We are a long way from understanding how sex enters into the child’s growth, and the significance of human differences. What we do know from clinical experience is that personal interrelationships with their sexual dynamics reflect the whole life history.

One special consequence of sexuality concerns the differences in the experience of men and women. Those differences are enormously complicated by cultural conditioning, and every aspect of the matter is being discussed at the present time. But masculinity and femininity as primordially given, and later conditioned, by cultural, social and economic relationships are fundamental determinants in every life. Theologians should remember that nearly all the theology has been written by men. A woman theologian, Dr. Valerie Goldstein, says this has given a certain caste to all Christian doctrine, particularly the doctrine of sin:

For the temptations of woman as woman are not the same as the temptations of man as man. . . . [The woman’s] temptations have a quality which can never be encompassed by such terms as ‘pride’ and ‘will-to-power’. They are better suggested by such terms as triviality, distractibility, and diffuseness; lack of an organizing centre or focus; dependence on others for one’s own self-definition; tolerance at the expense of standards of excellence; inability to respect the boundaries of privacy; sentimentality, gossipy sociability, and mistrust of reason — in short, underdevelopment or negation of the self.10

Menie Gregoire says:

Tied to the service of the species, feminine sexuality differs essentially from man’s; man is free, instantly released. He belongs to himself, he is absolute act, and the unfailing self-possession of his body is the greatest astonishment for woman. For her, there is never any true self-possession, never a moment which does not belong, if not to eternity, at least to that passage of time which, for agnostics, strongly resembles it. Her body is, by definition, a fetter. It is made to break loose from, to change, to become deformed; it assaults her balance, her life, her strength, and her freedom.11

As a male I may remark that I find male self-possession somewhat exaggerated in this statement. But there is no question that the sexual dimension, expressed or repressed, creative or destructive, is a qualifier of all experience. Therefore a sexual ethic which offers only the prohibition of overt sexual behaviour except under certain regulated circumstances is woefully incomplete. The obligations and possibilities of human sexuality are present and have to be handled in the whole of life. Consider, for example, how sex enters into religious feeling, and how the religious community must reckon with the sexual dynamics in pious emotion.

Our second assertion is that sex is one of the important languages of mankind. It is one way the self seeks and communicates with another self.

The will to belong, we have said, is fundamental in human existence. This will finds in sexuality one of its powerful opportunities, challenges, and frustrations. Human belonging does not mean physical possession alone; indeed the language of possession violates the spirit of belonging. The will to belong is the will to communicate, to express oneself and to find a response. Thus the search for belonging becomes in large measure a search for language which will open the way to speaking and hearing. This is why verbal behaviour is so closely linked with the emotional dynamics of the self and especially with sexuality.

Sexual behaviour, response, and creativity can be a means of communication from self to self. This is its first and greatest service to love. Paul Ricoeur, in the perceptive essay we have already quoted, seems to be denying what we are saying here, or at least giving it a role of little importance when he says:

The enigma of sexuality is that it remains irreducible to the trilogy which composes man: language, tool, institution. On the one hand, indeed, it belongs to a prelinguistic existence of man. Even when it makes itself expressive, it is an infra-, para-, super-linguistic expression. It mobilizes language, true, but it crosses it, jostles it, sublimates it, stupefies it, pulverizes it into a murmur, an invocation. Sexuality demediatizes language, it is Eros and not Logos.12

We can recognize what Ricoeur is saying, but put it in a different context. Ricoeur is thinking of language in ‘verbal’ terms. Nonverbal communication uses all sorts of language; gestures, symbols, overt acts, silences and attitudes. One may not want to ascribe the term ‘language’ to all of this, but it certainly has a Logos, that is, an intelligible order. It is the Logos of immediate personal communication. Rather than say sex ‘demediatizes’ language, we come closer if we say that it may be the most immediate of all languages. We say ‘may be’ for what is communicated through sexual behaviour is never fully determined by sexuality or the sexual act in itself Every personalistic doctrine must stress this. Man is the peculiar creature who lives both a biological and psychic existence. He shares sex with the animals, but for man the organic urges and acts are never detached from the search for meaning. That search may be successful or destructive, wholesome or corrupted. It is always the self’s search for belonging through communication with another. This is why sexual attraction by itself is such a fleeting, superficial, and undependable indicator of what sexuality really is. There is an implicit question in all human sexual attraction: ‘What use will you make of me?’ ‘What do you want and expect of me, and are you exploiting me or loving me?’

This understanding of the search for communication requires analysis of the general function of symbolization. Language is a special case of symbolic expression, and the dynamics of symbol formation in the life of the self are of especial importance in the sexual life.

In our attempt to speak and to hear, to express our feeling and find communicative response in another, anything in existence or imagination can become a significant symbol. Depth psychology has shown that every act has to be understood through its internal linkage with other acts and experiences. This present rage has some relation to experience with that parent or brother or other person. This release from fear and discovery of courage has its dynamic connection with past moments of doubt, distrust, and anxiety. The objective symbols of human culture are the spirit’s means of identifying its feelings and expressing their linkage with the self’s ultimate cravings.13 Hence the human body with its gestures and expression, its beauty or ugliness, its reflection of spirit in the human face, its postures of tenderness or hostility, its acts of intimacy and separation, articulates the language of the self. Alfred North Whitehead brilliantly defines the human body as the primary field of human expression.14 So every bodily action becomes symbolically the incarnation of a human attitude in the whole gamut from ecstatic fulfilment to boredom and despair.

One implication for a sexual ethic we see at once. It is always false to judge a sexual act as something completed in itself. Its meaning is what it expresses. What kind of personal communication does it serve? Is it merely the using of one person by another? The injunction to ‘watch your language’ might be one way in which moral cautions about sexuality could be given. Sexual play without the deepening of personal understanding is a violation of the search for reality. It becomes the language of brutality or exploitation. It is often said that women know this communicative dimension in sex more intuitively and deeply than men, and this is one reason for the male’s relative freedom from psychic scars in casual sexual experience. But when we consider sex as language it appears that men cannot employ the language of sex without consequences any more than women can. An exploitive sexual relationship stupefies the spirit. Its result is insensitivity to the depth and glory of personal communication.

The doctrine that sexuality is a primary means of communication bears upon our appraisal of the new freedom of sexual language and imagery in the literature and art of our century. This freedom is often pointed to as a sign of disease and moral decay. Certainly it has its pathological aspects. Anything which evokes a sexual response can be exploited for profit and the commercial exploitation of sexual curiosity is a demonic feature of our culture.

We should however be clear about where the evil is. It is not in the overt expression of sexual ideas, language and imagery. We can judge freedom of expression only in the light of what is being expressed. What is happening is that deeper levels of human experience and new styles of personal life are given public expression. Any society must ask what the legitimate limits of such communication are, and how to protect immature life from too early exposure to some experiences. But we should hear what honest and sensitive searchers are saying, even if we reject the ways of life they may defend. Merely to censor or turn away is to refuse what may be a cry for help, or a creative new truth, or the furnishing of a new symbol in the search for authentic love.

The incarnation of the Word of God means God’s self-communication in Jesus Christ. There is a reflection of the incarnation of the ‘Word’ in all human living. Every act and gesture is a word spoken. We are not platonizing or over-spiritualizing our view of sex when we say that every sexual act, feeling, or emotion has the power to become a disclosure of spirit to spirit. Sexuality is never something ‘by itself’. It is always a meaning incarnate.

The third aspect of sex is its relation to the creative self-expression of play. By ‘play’ I do not mean just idle enjoyment, and certainly do not mean the cynical exploitation of sex which constitutes much of what passes for humour about it. The real significance of play has never been adequately assessed. Life is far too serious to be bearable without the delight of play, laughter, and celebration for sheer joy. Sex has an energy and quality of play.15

The practice of religion has usually shown an element of free creativity which is akin to play. Music, poetry, ritual celebration, the festival, and aesthetic creativity have all been woven into the texture of religion. In this the sexual emotions certainly have had a part. The language of the mystics is filled with sexual imagery. The experience of God is more than the sublimation of sexuality, but the power and tonality of sexual emotion certainly enters into the celebration of life and the enjoyment of God.

If the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, this includes the sexual life. One of the symptoms of sickness in the treatment of sexuality in much modern literature is that there is so little gratitude for it. Sex is treated as torment, or possession, or weapon against the world; but the note of gratitude for sexuality as enrichment of life, for ecstatic joy and the serenity of faithful companionship, all this gets left out of the meaning of sex. Albert Camus points out that the orgy is drearily ascetic and monotonously cheerless.16 This throws considerable light not only upon the meaning of sexuality, but also upon what our culture has done to it.

The traditional Roman Catholic doctrine that the only legitimate function of sex is procreation has contributed to this repressive attitude. The enrichment and joy of human relationships in sex has been denied its importance. It is noteworthy that more recent Roman Catholic discussion has sharply criticized the tradition on this point.17

One aspect of biblical faith helps to explain why the tradition has been wary of giving sexuality an important place in religious life. The old Testament affirms the goodness of life and sexuality, and sexual language is freely used to describe the relationship between God and his people, but the prophetic tradition is consistently and radically opposed to the kind of sexual worship found in Baalism. We need not assume that even the greatest prophets were infallible in their judgments about other religions, but here obviously they saw an issue.

Two elements in the sexual practices of Baal worship drew the prophetic criticism: idolatry and prostitution. Both violated the covenant relationship between God and Israel. Martin Buber states the decisive point in the Hebraic view of sex:

Sex is hallowed by the sacrament of the circumcision covenant which survives in its original purity and not only confirms the act of begetting but converts it into a holy vocation. . . . Hallowing transforms the urges by confronting them with holiness, and making them responsible toward what is holy.18

The religious sensibility we have inherited respects this hallowing of human emotion, but has lost the delight in its expression. Sex can temper solemnity with laughter and refreshment. Anxieties about sex rob us of one dimension of the celebration of life and of gratitude to God. God, not Satan, created sex.

The fourth aspect of sex arises from the self’s freedom. Every human expression implies a decision about how we accept, interpret and fulfil it. The meaning of an impulse is never given in the impulse itself. It involves the person. We have no choice about being sexual, but we have a margin of freedom about how we live sexually. One of the extraordinary things about human sexuality is the variety of disciplines, restrictions, commitments, and styles of life which it achieves.

The context of decisions about sexual activity is the web of relationships in which we live. Sexual intercourse is the way of procreation, and even where for reasons of natural circumstances or human intervention new life is not begotten, the act is never wholly separated from this meaning. The responsibilities of parenthood are implied in most sexual expression either indirectly or directly. But this interconnectedness of sex and new life involves more than procreation. Every sexual feeling and expression is an event in the self’s becoming, its commitments, its pilgrimage. As Whitehead says, ‘the greater part of morality hinges on the determination of relevance in the future’.19 The total life pattern is present in the most transitory and intimate of human experiences. Here the theme of sex as play receives its counterweight in the theme of sex as responsibility for oneself, for other selves, and for the full consequences of every act.

Christianity has always asserted a spiritual basis for the renunciation in a celibate way of life. The rationale of celibacy in the Christian faith is never renunciation for its own sake, but always that love for God and the neighbour may be fulfilled this way. A Protestant theologian, Max Thurian, speaks of the Christian’s voluntary celibacy as ‘a parable for a world without God. . . the Christian can renounce everything for the sake of Christ and the Gospel’. Jesus commends those who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19: 12).20 Christian celibacy is dedication to a pattern of life in which one fruitful and natural kind of experience is renounced for the sake of service to God and neighbour. It should be noticed, and we are clearer about this in the light of modern psychology, that it is not sexual feeling or emotion which are renounced, but the fulfilment of the sexual relationship. No one can discard his sexuality, but it can be sublimated, and its involvements renounced for the sake of one’s vocation.

Every pattern of sexual life involves vocational decision in the Christian view. It is not a question of one way being higher than another. Luther and Calvin made this clear in their doctrine of vocation. The way of love can be lived in this world in all its forms and orders. But there is in every vocation a place for the freedom of the spirit and responsible decision in the light of the possibilities, demands, and personal commitments required for the service of God.

So also the Christian faith should lead to understanding for those to whom life brings unwanted and difficult circumstances, such as those who want the companionship of marriage and are denied it, those for whom physical or psychological illness makes sexual experience impossible, those who have had tragic and wounding experiences and must find their way through them. These problems cannot be solved by rule alone. They call for decisions taken in courage and judged with compassion.

There is a large element of fate and accidental circumstance in the realm of sex. The importance of physical attractiveness, the fatefulness of sexuality — being a man or a woman, the accidents of childhood experience, the uniqueness of each personal relationship. Yet fatalism should be rejected here as it is elsewhere in the Christian faith. Fate becomes destiny when we freely take the measure of circumstances and make a personal response to them. Just here, the Christian doctrine that love is mercy is often forgotten at a point where it is sorely needed. The sexual life participates in the realm of freedom, in both sin and grace. The agape which redeems and reconciles does one of its greatest works in the infusing of the sexual life with the spirit of humility and charity.

There is an enormous amount of silent suffering which people bear in relation to sex. I write here out of experience as pastor and counsellor, the burden of guilt, the mismanaged lives, the hurts given and received, the tragedies of broken families, the search for integrity in the midst of violent passion. All this bears the added burden of the consistent distortion and exploitation of sexuality in our culture. Between sentimental kinds of romanticism at one pole, and the cynical despair of much literature and art at the other, sexuality is seen only in a half-light of distortion, violence, prettiness and ugliness. It is not easy to grasp its potential for wholeness and creativity amid this distortion, but we must try.


These first four aspects of sex — its pervasiveness, its power of communication, its relation to play and creativity, and to human decision — can be discussed at least in a preliminary way without specific reference to love. Sexuality is not love, and much sexual experience may be independent of that mutual affection, commitment, and union of two personal histories which we call human love. Jean-Paul Sartre says that desire for being is more fundamental than sexuality in the relationships of men and women.21

Sex must transcend itself to become love. The physical and emotional attraction of another person laden with the possibilities of sexual fulfilment may lead to the will to unite one life with another, and to an acceptance of the needs of the other as redirecting the course of life. Then it has become love.22 This is not to say that love in itself requires even implicitly a total commitment for life. People fall in and out of love in many circumstances and at many levels of personal commitment. Sexual attraction can be incorporated into the love relationship, and normally in the love of men and women it is, but it never by itself determines the presence or fulfilment of love.

Love, we have said, has a history, and it has a history in each individual love. The beginning is only the invitation to a shared life. Hence in its initiation the experience of sexual love becomes one illustration of the truth that all human loves mean a call to acceptance of another, and the willingness to be transformed for the sake of the other. It is precisely this will which marks the difference between loving affection and sexual exploitation. Sexual relationship without love, therefore, tempts the self to violate its essence. Certainly the elements of play, self-expression and self-discovery, the wary search for the other person which accompany sexuality in every culture, are the foreplay of love. Art, literature, music, the dance, social recreation are filled with parables and evocations of sexual feeling. But the inner destiny of the sexual experience is toward the intimate and transforming discovery of love. This is why the sexual life becomes burdened with the issue of Personal commitment in the midst of the colourful panorama of sexual symbols and play. The point is that the moral issue in sexual life is not the consequence of an externally imposed law, but the nature of personal existence. What sexual behaviour will serve rather than destroy the growth of authentic love? It is a reflection of cultural superficiality that in the present discussion about sexual freedom on college campuses, there is so much attention to sexual intercourse and so little to the question of what love for another person means.

The love of men and women takes innumerable forms, and involves the uniqueness of each person. Human culture is filled with stories of loves, of gods and goddesses, of strong and weak persons, of love which breaks the lines of caste and convention, of what Lesley Branch has called the ‘Wilder Shores of Love’ in her account of some remarkable women.23 We can discount the significance of the so-called ‘great lovers’, the Don Juans — a rather sorry lot — who are for the most part incapable of real love, and have little to tell us about it. But the rise and disappearance of the romantic tradition of love seems a critical aspect of our history and we must give some attention to it.

There has undoubtedly been a break in the twentieth century with the tradition of romantic love which arose in the later phase of medieval culture, flourished in the ‘courts of love’ in the fifteenth century, gave birth to the literature of the romantic movement, reached conventional respectability and domestication in the nineteenth century, and now seems out of date. Tibor Koeves has written that ‘romantic love was born in the fifteenth century and died in the twentieth’.24

One of the most important studies is Denis de Rougemont’s Love in the Western World, which makes a brilliant attempt to prove that romantic love was born of a Christian heresy, the catharism of the Middle Ages.25 This quasi-secret religion used conventional religious language to mask its own inner intent which was the celebration and mystical idolatry of sexual union. De Rougemont argues that the real spirit of this romanticism was the longing of the lovers for union in death. The legend of Tristan and Isolde furnishes the classical pattern for this thesis. The lovers are absorbed in a passion which can only lead to their destruction, but this is what they secretly want. The ecstasy of love is the leap into eternity through death.

De Rougemont has detected and described one strand in the development of romantic love. If one wishes to define romantic love as synonymous with this historical form, then he is free to do so. But De Rougemont’s determination to identify romantic love as heretical religion has, I think, obscured from him some considerations which are no less theological and ethical, but are of first importance.

De Rougemont pays little attention to the social arrangements in feudal society which brutalized human marriage by founding it on political and economic convenience. In royal families five-year-old girls were betrothed to six-year-old boys as a matter of political expediency.26 Wives were property first and only secondarily persons with freedom to love. A culture grown sick with its own rigidities is bound to produce a rebellion, and romantic love was that rebellion. It is a stage in the history of the search of men and women for freedom of the spirit in love and marriage.

It must be further pointed out that De Rougemont takes the most elaborately dramatized and perverse examples of romanticism such as the Tristan legend with its turgid morbidities, its pathos, and its obsession with adultery, and treats this as the essence of romantic love. Interestingly he has nothing to say about the Shakespeare of the Sonnets, or even of Romeo and Juliet. Why should the tradition of romanticism not be judged also as in the sonnets of Elizabeth Barrett Browning:

The face of all the world is changed, I think

Since first I heard the footsteps of thy soul.

I deliberately choose this Victorian example, not to argue that what may seem quaint in the twentieth century can be reinstated, but to point to the modern search for a sexual love which expresses the uniqueness and freedom of two human beings who find one another and commit their lives to one another.27

When De Rougemont suggests his theological alternative to romanticism he has nothing to put in the place of human love but the carnal eros conjoined with the absolute love which is the agape of the Gospel. He finds little worthy even of comment in the many-sided life of the self, its freedom, its rationality, its creativity. Father D’Arcy has detected this ‘reductionism’ in De Rougemont’s view of man.28

If there be a ‘romantic passion’ which is creative in the sexual life, how and where does it become a genuine personal love? The answer to this question leads to the meaning of faithfulness in human love. The real test of love as seen in the deeper moral traditions of mankind, and in the Christian faith, is the willingness of persons to commit their lives and sexual being faithfully to one another ‘till death do us part’.29

Such commitment is never fulfilled in sexual relationship alone. The family enlists all the powers of human understanding, identification, and suffering with the other, and the learning of mercy and forgiveness. Thus the need for agape appears in the very inception of sexual love. Agape does not come to human love merely as a rescue operation when fidelity fails and reconciliation is needed. The need for the love which gives faithfulness to the other, suffers with and for the other, and accepts the other, pervades the whole sexual experience. We say the need for agape because we are often far from realizing or accepting its presence. It can make itself known as need long before we know its creative and healing power. The Christian affirmation that the love of God and neighbour is the foundation of life can be discerned in the mystery of sexual love when it leads persons out of themselves into a new dimension of love.

The mystery of love in God’s creation is nowhere more powerfully revealed than in this: the sexual attraction which man shares with the animals is immediate, self-centred, and gratifying, yet it leads to the possibility of a love which requires commitment and loyalty and in which physical and emotional gratification become sacraments of the spirit. What faithfulness means is in essence clear enough. It means that each can count upon the other in devotion and support whatever happens. Faithfulness and integrity are partners, for to be faithful means to give the whole of one’s loyalty without reservation to the one who counts upon us and upon whom we count.

Monogamous marriage is a form of cultural institution for the ordering and guidance of the sexual life. Its justification from the point of view of the human spirit includes but transcends pragmatic social values. Its basis is the need of the human spirit for the fulfilment of loyalty in the one intimate, lifelong, mutually supporting community we can know. There are of course alternative ways of ordering family life. There is however a remarkable persistence of the ideal of restriction of sexual intercourse within the commitment of husband and wife. Every society has some restrictions. In the polygamous family there are restrictions and obligations for its protection. The Koran forbids more than four wives.

Provision for a stable family structure usually has in view the protection of children. Here again one obvious justification of the monogamous family is that it offers the healthiest community for the growth of children.

Christianity can appeal to such arguments for the monogamous family, but the Christian faith sees an even more fundamental reason. It is the protection, guidance, and release of the power to love in all the human ways, and the power to give love to God and the neighbour, which justifies the restraints, disciplines and prohibitions in the Christian ideal of the union of man and woman. This is the teaching of the Scripture and the implication of the doctrine of the good creation. Man bears the image of God as his power to enter an enduring, mutually supportive community which incorporates suffering constructively since self-giving always involves suffering. Love disciplines itself for love’s sake.

Certainly faithfulness means spiritual loyalty, not simply objective obedience to a law, and there are issues concerning the ideal of faithfulness amidst all the disorder and exigencies of actual life. But the Christian conception of the life commitment of one person to another in a sexual union is justified fundamentally as a recognition of the highest possibilities of human love, not as a concession to human weakness or a search for a convenient way to preserve social order.

Where the church has failed is not in its high standard of fidelity, but in its tendency to treat sex as incidental to the fulfilment of marriage, or as at best a minor element in fulfillment. Hence it has failed to provide a climate and an ethic which releases the full power of sexual love to serve human life. And it has left the whole area of man’s growth in sexuality, ‘pre-marital experience’, the meaning of sexual self-discovery, in a limbo of silence or prohibition, as if nothing needed to be done except to wait until marriage, sex will be domesticated, and all problems will be solved.

Here is the serious point, I believe, of the present revolt against Christian standards. It is not always an irresponsible rejection of the faithfulness of monogamy, but an assertion of the positive power of sexuality to express, communicate, and release the self. This revolt has spawned a popular modern heresy, but a heresy, from which the church may learn. The heresy in its crudest form is that sexual satisfaction constitutes the good life. One can find innumerable variants in popular literature. In Louis Malle’s motion picture, The Lovers, the message is, as a discerning critic has commented, that ‘Sex in its most instinctive form, most carefully freed of any spiritual contact, has become the way of salvation’.30

D. H. Lawrence was the great modem prophet of the faith that sexuality is the key to existence. His view has been examined in an able book by Dorothea Krook, Three Traditions of Moral Thought. She discusses Lawrence’s belief that there is the intrinsically redemptive power of sexual love when it springs from tenderness, and is sustained by the true union of hearts and minds.31 Miss Krook says the church denies what Lawrence is contending for. It grants redemptive power to sexual love only under certain conditions. It is the means of procreation, a remedy against concupiscence, and a source of mutual help and comfort. In short Christianity concedes certain uses of sex but accords it no special dignity in the life of the spirit. Krook believes with Lawrence that only a new Humanism can give to man’s sexual life the meaning which rightfully belongs to it. She disagrees with Lawrence’s view that Jesus suffered from the error of finding in love only that which gives and never receives. She says Lawrence was wrong about this. Jesus was vitally aware of the nature of the human loves. But with Lawrence she pleads for a new Humanism which will supersede Christianity, not by annihilating it, but by incorporating and transforming it; a messianic Humanism.32

This messianic element, it turns out, can be expressed in Christian terms. Miss Krook’s view of the significance of sexuality for love supplies the element we have found missing in the Christian tradition. She criticizes the Anglican Lambeth conference statement for its ‘vestigial Augustinianism’ in the exaltation of sexual abstinence, and suggests that the bishops regard abstinence as an offering pleasing to God because it sacrifices a human pleasure. Against this she says:

Is not the mystery of the Incarnation that most fully and most powerfully illuminates, expresses, indeed defines, the mysterious and wonderful communion of spirit achieved by a husband and wife in the bodily consummation of their love; and is not therefore the act of sexual union in the profoundest sense a ‘figure’ of the incarnation — the Word, which is love, made flesh?

The development of this view is of such importance that I must give it at length:

The Incarnation (Christians sometimes seem to forget) is a very carnal affair. If therefore the analogy proposed is true to Christian experience, we may glance again for the last time at the beauty and strength of abstinence to ask, Would not, or ought not, the Christian to find it as unthinkable to abstain as a particular and special offering to God from worshiping with his body, expressing his passionate love of and joy in the woman with whom he is one flesh, as in the same circumstances to abstain from expressing his passionate love of and joy in Christ by the mystical eating of his Flesh and drinking of his Blood in the sacrament of the Eucharist? Indeed, with the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection more intensely and vividly present to him, one imagines at these times than at others, it is not abstinence from sexual communion, but rather (one would suggest) the fullest, most joyful, most grateful expression of it that becomes at such times his just response to the costly redeeming love of God. The true virginity is not (as the Church has for so long held) the power to renounce bodily love. It is rather the power to rediscover and live, each time afresh, the peace, power, and joy of this most intimate of unions, to experience each time afresh, its inexhaustible wonder and mystery.

It is the man and the woman to whom the act remains, each time, as fresh and beautiful, as it was the first time, who are able to sustain and perpetuate their first sense of its glory in the midst of the sober or bleak or sordid realities of day to day life, and who can feel, afresh each time, a boundless gratitude for each other and for this blessed source of sweetness and strength — it is they who are the truly ‘virgin’, the truly pure and chaste; and (on the Humanist hypothesis) it is they who are the remnant selected by grace to be the true and spiritual seed of the risen Christ.33

Such a view of sexuality accords fully with the doctrine that the love of God incorporates and does not destroy the human loves. It is a New Testament theme which Miss Krook here rightly articulates, the love of man and woman is an image of the love of God. Thanksgiving for the holiness of life ought to arise in this love as in other natural loves. It is noteworthy that sexuality is rarely mentioned specifically in the public prayers of the church, though at least one of the Puritan fathers explicitly enjoined Christians to give thanks for sexual love.

With full appreciation for Miss Krook’s exaltation of the meaning of sexual love her argument is incomplete. She neglects an important truth about love, that it must discover its own limitations, and undergo a transmutation for the sake of the creative purpose of God and his Kingdom. The discovery of self-giving can come in the sexual life as elsewhere. What both Krook and Lawrence forget is that the discovery of the meaning of love does not depend upon one kind of fulfilling experience, not even the sexual experience she so beautifully interprets. We must allow for human limitations and frustrations in the commitment ‘in sickness and in health’. Like most humanists, Miss Krook exalts the perfection of man but forgets his dependence. The full understanding of sexuality includes both its contribution to the life of love, and the discovery that even the love of men and women does not require sexual fulfillment.

One mark of imbalance in the present discussion of sex is this ‘all importance’ which is assigned to sexual fulfilment. From a Christian point of view this is idolatry, just as the absolutizing of prestige, or status, or any other value is idolatry. The paradox here is that the most satisfying experience of sexuality comes when it is not made the centre of existence, but has its place as one dimension of personal being. The spirit learns a certain detachment while it gives thanks for all the blessings of this life.


The first principle of a Christian sexual ethic is that this side of life should be so ordered, disciplined, and released that sexual love becomes a creative aspect of the life of agape, the giving of each person in service to God and his neighbour. This principle holds whether the sexual life is fulfilled in overt expression, or within a vocation of celibacy and renunciation.

If God intends to create a community of persons who know the meaning of love, then sexuality belongs to the goodness of creation. It is a human analogue of the creativity of God, and a primary source of human creativity. This means sexual delight and joy, but at the same time nothing in human creativity is without pain, discipline, frustrations, and ambiguities. The sexual life exhibits these just as do other aspects of creativity. We are somewhat led astray by the tendency, even in the biblical tradition, to conceive the creation before sin as idyllic bliss. All human experience shows this is an over-simplification. Creative growth has aspects of suffering, of patient waiting, and the chaotic flow of energy. Certainly sin adds to the suffering and disorder; but there is something untameable about the creative urges of life. They exhibit the explosive power of God’s creative life. Nature holds vast energies which man continually discovers in the world or in himself.

With all due reservations, we can (with Karl Barth) be glad that the Song of Songs is in the Scripture not as a cryptogram of theological meaning, but as the love song of man and woman. Human love can be transformed into the celebration of the ultimate love which embraces all things. It is not the case of the human sexual eros turning into agape. Nothing ‘turns into’ agape, but love experienced in depth within the context of faith in God’s agape becomes an occasion for gratitude, humility and the celebration which expresses the life of God’s people in his world.

The second principle for a sexual ethic is that we have to speak of sex, as of every aspect of human life, in a double way, from the standpoint of essential created goodness, and the distortion produced by sin. In all life and love we find both aspects. Rarely can we say that this act is essentially good and that act is the manifestation of sin; though we can see objectively the self-destruction resulting from sin and we can experience in part the fulfilment of created goodness. We must include in the ethical test of any action its consequences not only for one individual, but for the whole community. Sexuality turned into cruelty, cynical exploitation, and destruction of others is certainly evil, and sexual behaviour which leads to mutual regard and loving growth can so far be called good. But we know ourselves as mixtures of faith and fear, of capacity for love and the refusal of it, and in this uncertain light we have to move.

The basis, then, for Christian judgment about sexual practice in the network of questions concerning sexual adventure before marriage, pre-marital sexual intercourse, the obligations within the family, and the ethical issues involved in divorce is: what does the practice in question do to the creation of loving mutually supporting persons who can grow in love to God and the neighbour, who also have tendencies to exploit one another, and who must find disciplines of self-protection and self restraint for the sake of love?

What the sexual freedom now practised by many will contribute in answer to this question remains to be seen. Legalistic pronouncements are not going to alter sexual practice very much, even though there is danger in neglecting the wisdom of the centuries concerning sexual restraints for the sake of the full expression of love. What needs to be asked is how men and women can live in this culture filled with sexual symbols, sharing in the new freedom, and discover the creativity and satisfaction of authentic human love. Concentrated attention to that question will give a sounder basis for a sexual morality than the uncritical repetition of the formulas of the past. What in the past was enforced by society and the churches largely as social pressure, will increasingly have to depend upon the integrity of informed personal decision and responsibility. What is disheartening about much of the present sexual practice is not the freedom itself so much as the fact that no one seems clear as to what he is doing or why. Sexual obsession seems joined with a loss of true self-possession. The rules of monogamy, the proscription of sexual intercourse outside marriage, the traditional rules of sexual restraint, are important for the Christian style of life. They are the guide lines which have protected precious human relationships against wilful corruption. But the Church and the Christian conscience cannot rely upon law alone. It is the personal intent in the expression and discipline of sex which counts for the life of love. Instead of simply stating the law and reacting in panic when it is widely broken, those concerned for traditional moral wisdom would do much better to affirm the high possibility of the life of faithful love, and to understand with love what is happening to people in ghettoes, in college campuses, in the life of the family today. And we should remember that the Gospel of reconciliation bears also upon the life of sex. No one is without sinful self-centredness in thought and in act. All have to learn the meaning of faithfulness through the maturation and discipline of living within a commitment. Jesus’ condemnation of self-righteousness, of thanking God that we are not as other men, brings judgment as surely in this area as in any other.

President Millicent Macintosh, in an address at Barnard College dealing with pre-marital sexual relationships, gives as the primary argument against it that the woman is likely to suffer permanent emotional damage. The act has a more lasting result in the woman’s life than in the man’s.34 This may be so, but to put the case for sexual restraint primarily on this basis seems to me to let both men and women off too easily. Male callousness is as much a scar on the spirit as the damage to the sensitivities of women. What is happening to the possibility of growth in full and loving selfhood? That question is being answered in many different ways in this generation, but the final judgment on sexual action is what it means for the fulfilment of persons now and throughout life. This is a higher and more rigorous standard for self-discipline than any law of prohibition or permission.

The same rule applies to the obligations of marriage and the problems about divorce. The intent of Christian marriage is commitment of life between a man and woman until death. In the Christian view this is the way to the fulfilment of all the persons involved, husband, wife and children. In one sense, then, divorce or separation represents a failure of love. But when we bring the principle of growth of persons in loving relationship to the judgment of marriages where the partners discover that they have made a mistake and that two people are destroying the possibility of growth in freedom and love, it is no violation of integrity to end the marriage so that each may seek a new life which is more responsible and genuinely productive. Love may require that this be done. Such decisions may be extremely difficult. Sinful self-interest can enter into them as well as into any other; but to fail to ask what this marriage is leading to, and whether it is destroying the possibility of loving relationship is also a failure of responsibility.

Those who prize the freedom of the spirit must also question the control of the marriage covenant by ecclesiastical authority, as in Israel today, and as in traditional Roman Catholic practice. Whenever the ecclesiastical establishment is given control of the possibility of legal marriage, the freedom of persons is violated. A religious profession or action is being required which persons may not be prepared to• make. No society has a right to require a religious profession as the condition of establishing a family. A church or other religious body which cares about human love will offer its service, its wisdom, and its ritual to those who wish to have them; but it will not control the legal foundations of marriage according to its own prescriptions. The forms of legal coercion such as laws against bigamy, age limits for consent to marriage, the husband’s moral economic obligations to support the wife, and so on are the province of the community as a whole. The religious bodies may have wisdom in those matters, but they should not control them. The present tangle of American divorce laws has resulted in part from the refusal of some religious groups to allow the general consensus of the community to be expressed.

The social ethical principles here arise out of love itself; which means the responsible relationship of people who commit their lives to one another. There are rules and principles which society must lay down. Many of the laws which surround marriage offer needed protection of some persons against others. The community cannot regulate love; but it can regulate aspects of human behaviour in which we can never depend solely on the wisdom of love, or what is thought to be love. But such rules are for protection at the boundaries of human love, where people hurt and exploit one another. They cannot enforce love, and they ought not to violate the freedom of those who are mature enough to take the consequences of their own acts.

Sexuality is a dimension of personal existence in which the meaning of love is to be learned and in which love between persons reaches a depth, intimacy and creativity of expression which is incomparable with most other loves. Love at its depth means the giving of faithful devotion to another person on terms which do not threaten or corrupt that devotion. Christianity in its essence does not look upon sex as something which belongs to the lowest part of human nature, but as a power which leads to one of the highest forms of communion.


Discussion of sexual ethics usually centres on the sexual act, but we should not neglect the problems of justice which are just as difficult and important. Any love can become idolatrous. One ethical test is whether the obligations of justice are being honoured. We give much attention to the commandment against adultery, but it is no more vital to love than the injunction to seek justice. Family love easily becomes self-protective amidst the larger claims of justice. Difficult moral choices lie all about us. Consider the family which must decide about the placing of children in a State school. What constitutes legitimate protection of a child and what are the obligations of a family to protest against an injustice in school segregation, for example, and to open the way for better public education?

Generous and self-sacrificing impulses are exploited in the economic scramble. Many defend their economic privileges on the ground that they are providing for families. The ethical question is how far the self-protection of each family is justified against the claims of all families. ln the world today, with its mass hunger, the question of how much of the world’s goods, food, and land should belong to any family, becomes very acute. Space has become a spiritual and moral issue. The ethical obligation to limit the size of families arises from desperate human necessity. It is another case of seeing the human eros in its communal context and seeking to order life so that a humane and tolerable existence becomes possible for all.

The love which learns to protect its own, which is realized in the intimate communion of the family, should be the first school of the ethical obligation of love and the requirements of self-giving. Every marriage is a balance of power which needs a dynamic justice in its moral structure. Family love can be the soil for the growth of neighbour love. But unless the tensions between self-protection and obligation to the community are acknowledged, family love can become a self-centred existence, protected from learning the larger demands of love by its internal satisfactions. D. S. Bailey discusses the relations of eros, philia, and agape and remarks:

Each has its contribution to make to the fullness of love. But balance and proportion between the different constituents of love is not automatic, and is usually attained only within that persistent effort which is one of the joys and responsibilities which lovers share.35

This surely is a classic understatement. Consider demands upon time and energy of individual members of the family for service in some larger cause. Fathers who leave families to make civil rights marches, politicians who sacrifice family life to the exigencies of political campaigns, wives who have to decide between a significant life in a public vocation and the demands of housekeeping, all should know the impossibility of any clear solution of this ethical problem.

Family love does not exempt us from the claims of the Kingdom of God. No person is ever fulfilled un the family alone and no romanticism about love should obscure that fact. The person is fulfilled in the world where God’s work is being done. We have to find a union of love in its obligation to those with whom our lives are immediately bound; and love which calls upon each to become a creative member of the full society.

A modern novel, based upon a true story of persons who defied Hitler’s tyranny, so perfectly expresses the fulfilment of eros in the love of justice that it has been vividly un my mind throughout this discussion of family love.

Alfred Neumann in Six of Them tells of a German professor of law who continued teaching in the early days of the Hitler regime, lecturing on justice with pointed reference to its subversion in the Nazi state.36 When fired from his position, the professor, his wife, and a loyal band of students publish secretly copies of his lectures and other material attacking the injustices of the regime. Six of them are caught, and tried in a Nazi kangaroo court, itself a travesty of legal procedure. They are condemned to be executed. In the van in which they are being taken to their death the professor and his wife sit facing one another. They have had a lifetime of love and work together. They are old now, their energies exhausted by the struggle. Yet as they look at one another their love reaches its highest moment. It has been consummated in the service of a cause which transcends but does not negate personal eros. Sexual love has its fulfilment in personal existence when it is thus transmuted. Sexuality must be shattered in its self-centredness and redirected to something greater. That it can be so is a proof that this human love belongs with the creative action of agape.


The issues of justice between men and women are so complex that a full discussion of them would require a shelf of books, and indeed a shelf has been appearing with Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex; Helen Deutsch’s Modern Woman, the Lost Sex; and Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, to mention some outstanding ones. One obvious aspect of the moral issue is the overwhelming control of creative public life by men. This is an issue through the whole of culture, and certainly in the church where the ordination of women us in some areas still vigorously debated.37 In the theological school, the writer has faced innumerable times the task of advising an able, educated and dedicated young woman concerning her professional life. She may be married to a prospective minister or teacher, and as capable intellectually and in other qualities as her husband. Not infrequently she is more capable. What pattern of life will serve the home, the husband’s work, the coming family, and at the same time fulfil the deeply felt vocation to do significant work in the common life and the public world? It is an extremely difficult question to answer.

A just culture will provide for the equality, dignity, and companionship of men and women in the significant tasks of life, and yet take account of the enrichment which comes from the distinctive qualities, emotionality, and intellectuality of both men and women.

Movement toward this goal is doubly difficult because there is no way of completely disentangling the differences created by primal sexuality from those created by cultural conditioning and expectancy. Therefore a loving concern about this problem requires that men and women together try to learn what new possibilities of the organization of public life for both sexes there may be. It is an obvious case where the social forms in which love can be fulfilled have yet to be discovered. Changes such as new technological knowledge which alter the form of home life, the lifting of the burdens of manual labour, new patterns of family life which may give to the woman of forty the possibility of public service after children have left the home, all are fraught with new possibilities. Perhaps the sins of ‘male arrogance’ and ‘female aimlessness’ will come into clearer light. Agape bids us seek justice here, not the stale justice of combat and compromise, but the justice of a search for a new economic, political, and ecclesiastical order in which sexuality can be fulfilling for each in a life which is a support and not a barrier to the love which binds all together.



1. Menie Gregoire, ‘A Final Word About Love’ in Sexuality and the Modern World, a Symposium in Cross Currents, Vol. XIV, No. 2 Spring, 1964, p. 258. (Further reference to this symposium will be indicated, Cross Currents Symposium.)

2. Jean Guitton, Essay on Human Love, tr. by Melville Chaning-Pearce (New York: Philosophical Library, 1951), p. 5.

3. Cf. Robert Briffault, The Mothers (New York: Macmillan, 1927, Vol. III, pp. 372-5; London: Allen & Unwin, 1960).

4. Reinhold Niebuhr, ‘Christian Attitudes Toward Sex and Family’, Christianity and Crisis, April 27, 1964, p. 74.

5. Paul Ricoeur, ‘Wonder, Eroticism, and Enigma’, in Sexuality and the Modern World, Cross Currents Symposium, p. 135.

6. Roland Mushat Frye, The Teachings of Classical Puritanism on Conjugal Love: Studies in the Renaissance, Vol. II, 9 (1955).

7. Quoted by Frye, loc. cit., pp. 155-6, from The Office of Christian Parents (Cambridge, 1616), p. 140.

8. Walter Lippmann, A Preface to Morals (New York: Macmillan, 1929; London: Allen & Unwin, 1929).

9. A. N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (Cambridge University Press, 1936); Mentor Books ed. (New York: New American Library, 1948).

10. Valerie Saving Goldstein, ‘The Human Situation: A Feminine Viewpoint’, in Simon Doniger, ed., The Nature of Man (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1962), p. 165.

11. Menie Gregoire in Cross Currents Symposium, p. 261.

12. Paul Ricoeur, loc. cit., p. 141.

13. I have developed this doctrine of ‘linkage’ briefly in The Minister and the Care of Souls (New York: Harper & Row, 1961).

14. A. N. Whitehead, Modes of Thought (New York: Macmillan, 1938, p. 30; Cambridge University Press, 1938).

15. Johann Huizinga, Homo Ludens (Boston: Beacon Press, 1950).

16. Albert Camus, The Rebel, pp. 42-4.

17. Cf. Vatican II, Constitution on the Church and the Modern World, Pt. II, Chap. 1, on marriage and family.

18. Martin Buber, Israel and the World (New York: Schocken Books, 1948), p. 181.

19. A. N. Whitehead, Process and Reality, p. 41.

20. Max Thurian, Marriage and Celibacy (London: S.C.M. Press, 1959), p. 16.

21. Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness (London: Methuen & Co., 1957; New York: Washington Square Press, 1966), Pt. IV, chap. 2.

22. In the discussion which follows lam dealing primarily with the love which leads to the union of man and woman. Of course there are innumerable interpersonal relationships. In every case, however, love means more than sexual attraction and satisfaction. An infant’s love of the mother is the beginning of the recognition of the mother as person.

23. Lesley Branch, The Wilder Shores of Love (New York: The Viking Press, 1954).

24. Tibor Koeves, ‘The Death of Romantic Love’, The United Nations World, Vol. IV, July 7, 1950.

25. Denis de Rougemont, Love in the Western World, rev. ed. (New York: Pantheon, 1956).

26. Amy Kelly, Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings (Harvard University Press, 1950; London: Cassell & Son, 1952).

27. As Charles Williams profoundly understood. The Figure of Beatrice: A Study in Dante (London: Faber & Faber Ltd., 1943) and the admirable book on Williams by Mary McDermott Shideler, The Theology of Romantic Love (New York: Harper & Row, 1962).

28. M. C. D’Arcy, The Mind and Heart of Love, pp. 40-1 (London: Collins Fontana, 1963).

29. The Form of the Solemnization of Matrimony in The Book of Common Prayer.

30. Menie Gregoire, Cross Currents Symposium, p. 259.

31. Dorothea Krook, Three Traditions of Moral Thought (Cambridge University Press, 1959), p. 277.

32. Ibid., pp. 288-9.

33. Ibid.. pp. 346-7.

34. Millicent Macintosh, ‘Out of Morals Revolution — a Moral Revolution’, Glamour, January, 1963.

35. D. S. Bailey, The Mystery of Love and Marriage (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1952), p. 28.

36. Alfred Neumann, Six of Them (New York: Macmillan, 1945).

37. The Roman Catholic aggiornamento obviously raises questions about the male monopoly of the ministry. Cf. ‘Women Clergy for Rome’ by Rosemary Lauer, The Christian Century, Vol. 133, No. 37, Sept. 14, 1966. Most Christian communions have fundamental rethinking to do about the status of women in the church.