The Sexual Person

Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology

Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler

"Stimulating reading for theologians and graduate students."
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Two principles capture the essence of the official Catholic position on the morality of sexuality: first, that any human genital act must occur within the framework of heterosexual marriage; second, each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life. In this comprehensive overview of Catholicism and sexuality, theologians Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler examine and challenge these principles. Remaining firmly within the Catholic tradition, they contend that the church is being inconsistent in its teaching by adopting a dynamic, historically conscious anthropology and worldview on social ethics and the interpretation of scripture while adopting a static, classicist anthropology and worldview on sexual ethics.

While some documents from Vatican II, like Gaudium et spes ("the marital act promotes self-giving by which spouses enrich each other"), gave hope for a renewed understanding of sexuality, the church has not carried out the full implications of this approach. In short, say Salzman and Lawler: emphasize relationships, not acts, and recognize Christianity's historically and culturally conditioned understanding of human sexuality. The Sexual Person draws historically, methodologically, and anthropologically from the best of Catholic tradition and provides a context for current theological debates between traditionalists and revisionists regarding marriage, cohabitation, homosexuality, reproductive technologies, and what it means to be human. This daring and potentially revolutionary book will be sure to provoke constructive dialogue among theologians, and between theologians and the Magisterium.

Table of Contents

Charles E. Curran


1. Sexual Morality in the Catholic Tradition: A Brief History
Sexuality and Sexual Ethics in Ancient Greece and Rome
Sexuality and Sexual Ethics in the Catholic Tradition
Reading Sacred Scripture
The Fathers of the Church
The Penitentials
Scholastic Doctrine
The Modern Period

2. Natural Law and Sexual Anthropology: Catholic Traditionalists
“Nature” Defined
The Revision of Catholic Moral Theology
Natural Law and Sexual Anthropology
Traditionalists and Sexual Anthropology

3. Natural Law and Sexual Anthropology: Catholic Revisionists
Revisionist Critiques of Traditionalist Anthropologies
Karl Rahner: Transcendental Freedom
Revisionists and Sexual Anthropology

4. Unitive Sexual Morality: A Revised Foundational Principle and Anthropology
Gaudium et Spes and a Foundational Sexual Principle
The Relationship between Conjugal Love and Sexual Intercourse
Multiple Dimensions of Human Sexuality
Truly Human and Complementarity

5. Marital Morality
Marital Intercourse and Morality
NNLT and Marital Morality
Modern Catholic Thought And Marital Morality
Marital Morality and Contraception
A Renewed Principle of Human Sexuality and Contraception

6. Cohabitation and the Process of Marrying
Cohabitation in the Contemporary West
Betrothal and the Christian Tradition
Complementarity and Nuptial Cohabitation

7. Homosexuality
The Bible and Homosexuality
Magisterial Teaching on Homosexual Acts and Relationships
The Moral Sense of the Christian People and Homosexual Acts
The Morality of Homosexual Acts Reconsidered

8. Artificial Reproductive Technologies
Defining Artificial Reproductive Technologies
The CDF Instruction and Artificial Reproductive Technologies
Parental Complementarity, Relational Considerations, and Social Ethics



"Stimulating reading for theologians and graduate students."—Religious Studies Review

"Salzman and Lawler have succeeded brilliantly in combining a rigorous historical-critical engagement of the Catholic moral tradition with a set of creative, forward-looking proposals . . . Salzman and Lawler have written an engaging, well-researched book that handles extremely complicated and controversial questions in a nuanced and intellectually rigorous manner."—Theological Studies

"The present volume is their clearest and most detailed critical inquiry into sexual anthropology to date. The dialogue that this volume should generate between the authors and the advocates of the New Natural Law Theory will be very valuable."—Catholic Library World

"Todd Salzman and Michael Lawler's new book . . . is among the most important works in Catholic sexual ethics to emerge in the last two decades . . . Their book will be noticed because of its controversial positions on contraception, same-sex relationships, cohabitation and artificial means of reproduction. However, its contribution is its clear articulation of a person-centered natural-law ethic that offers Catholics an authentic way to think about sex in relation to their faith."—National Catholic Reporter

"They cover the whole gamut of issues in sexual ethics in impressive and thoroughly scholarly detail. They are conversant with the results of a wide range of recent studies in sexual psychology; and this material is effectively integrated into a tight philosophical argument . . . it is very refreshing to read such a balanced treatment, controversial but not at all combative or defensive in tone. Their conclusions are thoroughly constructive and very convincing. Overall, it is a most impressive achievement."—The Way

"[Salzman and Lawler] move among four foci: the Catholic tradition, the school they characterize as the "New Natural Law Theory," the Revisionist school, and their own constructive synthesis. The careful critiques of the three positions are worth the price of the book but their positive reconstruction (so often missing in critical works) is equally valuable. . . . Their work has a carefully constructed base of historical and sociological analysis as well as the requisite theology. It is well researched, carefully documented and logically argued."—Horizons

"An unusually rich resource for a dialogue on sexual ethics among a diverse group of religious ethicists who seek more fruitfully to articulate how Christians are called to shape their sexual lives in the contemporary world."—Conversations in Religion and Theology

"Salzman and Lawler are accomplished theologians with the stature to confront questions that have become highly inflammatory in the too-often polarized Catholic environment. The result is a piece of extensive, well-researched, and carefully argued scholarship. The authors are respectful, intelligent, honest, thorough, and courageous. They will alarm a few people, enlighten many, and hold all to a new standard of rigor in approaching this very personal and politicized subject."—Lisa Sowle Cahill, J. Donald Monan Professor of Theology, Boston College

"A carefully reasoned, nuanced, well-informed, often inspiring, and innovative book. Bound to be controversial for proposing an alternative to the primarily procreationist, traditionalist sexual anthropology in 'official' or 'tradionalist' Catholic treatments, The Sexual Person mounts a cogent and compelling account for a renewed genuinely Catholic sexual ethic, one widely informed by the social sciences. [This book] represents Catholic theological anthropology and ethics at their very best."—John A. Coleman, SJ, Casassa Professor of Social Values, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles

"This book provides the most comprehensive, critical analysis of the Catholic debate on sexual ethics over the past fifty years. Its interpersonal and experiential approach points to a thorough revision of Church teaching on birth control, reproductive technology, premarital sex, and homosexuality."—Edward C. Vacek, SJ, professor, Department of Moral Theology, Weston Jesuit School of Theology

"This superb volume courageously explores Catholic teaching on sexual ethics. The authors' exploration of the biological, relational, and spiritual dimensions of human sexuality engages Catholic teaching respectfully, critically, and creatively. The book is a significant contribution to both sexual ethics and moral theology generally."—Paul Lauritzen, director, Program in Applied Ethics, John Carroll University

"This book is a much needed contribution to the contemporary Catholic discussion of sexual ethics. The authors utilize the most recent sociological and psychological data to supplement their careful parsing of the Catholic theology of sex, gender, and embodiment. It is a work that manages to be highly theoretical while at the same time addressing everyday concerns about premarital sex, contraception, homosexuality, divorce and reproductive technology.

Lawler and Salzman embrace the model of theology as dialogue and as a result their treatment of both traditionalist and revisionist views about human sexuality is constructive and helpful. They succeed in moving a seemingly stalled conversation forward."—Aline Kalbian, associate professor, Department of Religion, Florida State University

"A bold and brave book! Tightly argued and well-documented, this book lays out an understanding of human sexuality that expresses the profound work that theologians do on behalf of the Church in order to find ever better understandings of what the Church teaches in light of the witness of Scripture, the tradition, and our understanding of human experience."—Richard M. Gula, SS, The Franciscan School of Theology, Graduate Theological Union


Supplemental Materials


Winner of the 2009 Catholic Press Association Book Award for Theology

About the Author

Todd A. Salzman is a professor of Catholic theology and chair of the Department of Theology at Creighton University. He is the coeditor of Marriage in the Catholic Tradition: Scripture, Tradition, and Experience and author of What Are They Saying about Roman Catholic Ethical Method?

Michael G. Lawler is professor emeritus of Catholic theology at Creighton University. He is the author of What Is and What Ought to Be: The Dialectic of Experience, Theology, and Church and Marriage and the Catholic Church: Disputed Questions.

352 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-1-58901-207-3
May 2008

352 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-1-58901-208-0
May 2008

352 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-58901-726-9
May 2008

Moral Traditions series
David Cloutier, Darlene Weaver, and Andrea Vicini, SJ

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