Bonum Prolis I: De Koninck and Guy Crouchback



During a recent discussion involving James Chastek and Arturo Vasquez, I uploaded  some texts of De Koninck’s on birth control. The most interesting paper is “The Question of Infertility”, which argues that infertility is sometimes intended by nature as part of the “bonum prolis”, the good of offspring. I don’t want address the main argument here (I share James Chastek’s assessment), but the exposition of the meaning of “bonum prolis” at the beginning reminded of what I’ve always thought was wrong with Mr. Goodall’s argument in a famous passage of Evelyn Waugh’s Men at Arms.

“Bonum prolis” includes three things, De Koninck points out: 1) the simple existence of the child, 2) the feeding and clothing of the child, and 3) the education and upbringing of the child. The first two are ordered to the third:

Marriage was instituted chiefly for the good of the offspring, not only as to its begetting—since this can be effected even without marriage—but also as to its advancement to a perfect state, because everything intends naturally to bring its effect to perfection. (S. Th., Suppl., q.59, a. 2, c)

S. Thomas uses this understanding of “bonum prolis” to prove that fornication is contrary to the natural law:

Since fornication is an indeterminate union of the sexes, as something incompatible with matrimony, it is opposed to the good of the child’s upbringing [bonum prolis educandae], and consequently it is a mortal sin. (IIa IIae, q. 154, a. 2, c)

And this is precisely what Mr. Goodall fails to see. Waugh readers will recall that Guy Crouchback, protagonist of the Sword of Honour trilogy, is a Catholic whose Protestant wife has left him and obtained a divorce. Mr. Goodall, an eccentric old Catholic, and he have the following conversation:

[Goodall] spoke of the extinction (in the male line) some fifty years back, of a historic Catholic family.
“..They were a connection of yours through the Wrottmans of Garesby. […] They had two daughters and then the wretched girl eloped with a neighbour. It made a terrible ado at the time. It was before before divorce was common. Anyway they were divorced. […] Then ten years later your kinsman met this woman alone, abroad. A kind of rapprochement occurred but she went back to her so-called husband and in due time bore a son. It was in fact your kinsman’s. It was by law the so-called husband’s who recognized it as his. That boy is alive to-day and in the eyes of God the rightful heir to all his father’s quarterings.”
Guy was less interested in the quarterings than in the morality.
“You to say that theologically the original husband committed no sin in resuming sexual relations with his former wife?”
“Certainly nor. The wretched girl of course was guilty in every other way and is no doubt paying for it now. But the husband was entirely blameless.” (pp. 159-160)

Guy proceeds to act on this dubious morality, and later in the novel makes a pass at his former wife, Virginia. That is certainly contrary to the bonum prolis, and thus (in way) Virginia is right in her extraordinary outburst of indignation when she realizes what is going on, though she doesn’t give the proper ratio:

Tears of rage and humiliation were flowing unresisted. “I though you’d taken a fancy for me again […] I thought you’d chosen me specially, and by God you had. Because I was the only woman in the whole world your priests would let you go to bed with. That was my attraction. You wet, smug, obscene, pompous, sexless lunatic pig.” (p. 178)

One thought on “Bonum Prolis I: De Koninck and Guy Crouchback

  1. Not so much that Mr. Goodall is wrong, since in his example the husband had taken back the wife and was, in fact, raising the child, but that Guy took the wrong lesson from it.

    Liked by 1 person

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