Jaeger David M. ,
Recensione: Aidan McGrath, A Controversy Concerning Male Impotence ,
Antonianum, 66/4 (1991) p. 591-592
This solution itself — shortly afterwards forcefully recalled by the same Pontiff in a discourse to the Rota — raised a number of problems and occasioned much discussion of both a doctrinal and a practical import. Was it a positive law? a declaration of the natural law? a positive determination of the natural law? And what in turn does it imply about «Cum frequenter**! Was it the case that «Cum frequenter* had been a non-irreformable declaration of the natural law now in fact «reformed» (i.e. reversed)? Or had the Brief established a positive ecclesiastical law impediment now abrogated? Or...? And what should all of this mean in practice for nullity cases already decided and «executed» on the basis of previous Rotal jurisprudence, and — an aven more urgent question — for pending or eventual cases concerning marriages solemnised before the Decree? And what precisely does «before the Decree* mean: Before it was approved? Before it was published? Before three months had passed from the date of publication?
In what is sure to be long remembered as one of the most impressive doctoral theses ever defended at the Gregorian University's renowned canon law faculty, McGrath answers these and many other intricate and intricately interconnected questions. The most meticulous research and rigorous reasoning lead him to conclude that both «Cum frequenter* and the 1977 Decree were declarations of the natural law, and that moreover they were in agreement with each other, since the previously common interpretation of the Brief had in fact been profoundly mistaken, the truth being that it had not diverged from the preceding tradition, with which too — as now illuminated by Vatican II — the recent Decree was perfectly consistent. These are the principal conclusions, which are based on a series of progressive and cumulative interim conclusions, and which in turn give rise to further conclusions and practical consequences.
It is usual for reviewers to imply that a book is heavy going by referring to its origins in a thesis. This is not the present case. McGrath's book is not only immensely learned (and closely argued), but also extremely readable. This reviewer read it all in one sitting, unable to tear himself away, although already well-acquainted with the main thesis.< The presence of several printing errors is understandable in a predominantly English text printed in Rome, and the author's own elegant English slips only once — with a split infinitive on p. 137 («to radically question*) — the use of «principle» in place of «principal» on p. 32 being attributable to the printer's proofreader. But then this is the sort of nitpicking comment a reviewer makes only to prove that he has actually read the book!
Naturally there are questions that call for further study. The author necessarily presupposes a certain understanding of the natural law (or «Natural Law», as he seems to prefer) and does not bother much with the complex problems — philosophical and theological — connected with our assertion that the Church knows it and «declares» it. He is right to do so, since no simple excursus would suffice to treat of these matters adequately, and the tradition he presupposes is solid. However this observation makes one wish for a scholar of similarly rare ability to take up these fundamental questions too, which have so much direct relevance to the matrimonial and other branches of the canon law.