“The art of loving” published posthumously

The late theologian Eberhard Schockenhoff combines tradition and reform in his comprehensive study. He calls on the Catholic magisterium to rethink its position. And sketches perspectives for marriage theology and sexual morality.

Eberhard Schockenhoff pleads for a humane and contemporary sexual ethics in his last, now posthumously published study "Die Kunst zu lieben: Toward a New Sexual Ethic". On almost 500 pages, the Freiburg theologian, who died in July 2020, traces in detail the historical and philosophical lines of development of Christian and Catholic theology on sexuality, marriage and the family.

In doing so, he opposes a narrowing of church moral teaching to a mere doctrine of prohibition and demands a paradigm shift from the Catholic teaching authority: for the doctrines of church sexual morality are precisely not unchangeable norms imprinted by God in the nature of man.

On the contrary, if individual statements of Catholic sexual morality do not help to lead people closer to God "and to open up to them the mystery of his love," there can only be one consequence, Schockenhoff demands: "to remove the annoying obstacle to faith by revising church teaching on this point".

"Diversity of the sensual dimensions of sexuality"

Specifically, he relates this demand, for example, to re-evaluation and differentiation with regard to contraception, homosexuality and extramarital sexuality. Sexuality should no longer be reduced to its "primary natural purpose" of procreation. Instead, he said, the Church's magisterium should recognize the "diversity of the sensory dimensions of sexuality": for example, the importance of sexuality for relationships or as a contribution to human identity formation.

At the same time, in the book published by Herder, Schockenhoff opposes superficial answers or ingratiation with the supposed "spirit of the age. This is how he characterizes family as a socially significant "habitat of love". He is convinced that the Church's doctrine of indissoluble marriage and the lifelong promise of fidelity are by no means outdated models.

Weighing up between self-determination and parenthood

With regard to fertility planning and contraception, he advocates a careful balance between the "ethos of self-determination" and the fundamental openness to children in responsible parenthood. The rigorous prohibition of contraception formulated in the 1968 encyclical "Humanae vitae" has prevented a bridge between Catholic moral teaching and modernity for far too long, according to Schockenhoff.

Instead of taking up the positive approaches of the Second Vatican Council and continuing them, the pope's "encyclical on pills" has played a significant role in the alienation between church sexual teachings and the actual way Catholics live their lives, which continues to this day. Only with Pope Francis does Schockenhoff see the first attempts to find a way out of this "ecclesiastical impasse".

In order to initiate and accompany changes, Schockenhoff himself – until his unexpected death in an accident in July 2020 – was heavily involved in the reform process Synodal Way of the Catholic Church in Germany. This week (4. February), the synod's Way Assembly will meet without him for the first time. Answers and perspectives to the questions negotiated at the online meeting can now be found in his latest book.

which, however, he was no longer able to complete: Concrete proposals were still planned for controversial ies discussed within the church, such as homosexuality or extramarital sex. Here it remained with a first sketch, which is documented in the appendix of the book.

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Christina Cherry
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