Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Domestic Church: Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Humanae Vitae


Those who follow Catholic news know that the 40th anniversary of the publication of Pope Paul VI's extremely important encyclical, Humanae Vitae ("On Human Life"), just occurred a couple days ago. Published in 1968, this document is likely the most important Papal encyclical of the 20th century, as it reasserted Catholic teaching on a myriad of issues having to do with the sanctity of life and of God's design for human sexuality. What really set off a firestorm was the shock the media and the secular world received when learning that Pope Paul VI explicitly reaffirmed the immorality of contraception. Most observers had been expecting a change in this teaching, and even some bishops had advised the Pope in this regard. But, in an act that one can only attribute to the constant guidance given the teaching office of the Pope, Pope Paul VI went against all currents of the time and reaffirmed the truth, and praise God for it! Most strikingly, Pope Paul predicted a series of consequences to wide adoption of contraception that have disturbingly all come true, shedding light on the truth of this teaching. Among his predictions were that:
  • Widespread use of contraception would "lead to conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality" i.e. divorce, abortion, infidelity, etc.
  • "The man" will lose respect for "the woman," and "no longer (care) for her physical and psychological equilibrium" and will come to "the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment and no longer as his respected and beloved companion."
  • Widespread acceptance of contraception would place a "dangerous weapon... in the hands of those public authorities who take no heed of moral exigencies." i.e. that nations or public organizations would use contraception as a means of controlling populations and human procreation.
  • Contraception would lead men and women to think that they had unlimited dominion of their own bodies.
The correctness of these predictions are hard to argue with. These are the consequences of contraception, but of course contraception itself is immoral for it's own reasons (see CCC 2370).

For some interesting reading, check out very good article in the ecumenical Christian journal, "First Things": The Vindication of Humanae Vitae. Well worth 20 minutes of your time.

And interestingly (shockingly?), the New York Times has just today published an Op-Ed piece by John Allen that is also worth a read: The Pope vs. the Pill

Pope Paul VI


Anonymous said...

Hi, it's your favorite inquisitive mind! I have a question regarding Catholic rulings/teachings (for lack of a better word) and the fallibility of the Pope - Do you believe that the Pope is infallible in his rulings? What about women clergy? What about priests being forbidden to marry and that the ruling on this has changed multiple times?
And to relate to this post specifically - I'm still not getting why nfp is not just as evil as putting on a condom or taking a pill? You are still doing something to control an outcome, namely trying to "time" things so that pregnancy does not occur. Finally, I found the statement (paraphrasing) "abortions have increased with contraceptive use, therefore contraceptives cause abortions" to be a little bit silly (again for lack of a better word) me that is like saying "kids are happier when eating sugar, therefore sugar causes happiness". Sure, there is correlation, but is there really cause?
Thanks in advance for your answers :)

Brendan Koop said...

You are an inquisitive mind, aren't you? :-)

These are good questions. I'll just try to address in order.

I have a question regarding Catholic rulings/teachings (for lack of a better word) and the fallibility of the Pope - Do you believe that the Pope is infallible in his rulings? What about women clergy? What about priests being forbidden to marry and that the ruling on this has changed multiple times?

The Pope is infallible (which specifically means "protected from error") when he definitively communicates, by virtue of his official teaching office, a teaching on faith or morals. This does not mean the Pope is impeccable, meaning that he does not sin. There have been some very sinful Popes in history. And it also doesn't mean that the Pope is infallible on matters not pertaining to the faith, such as predicting the team that Brett Favre will end up on for the next NFL season. If you'd like a fuller treatment, read through the comments on the post regarding George W. Bush (a few posts ago) where I address this more thoroughly. Needless to say, the infallibility of the Church's teaching office (the Magisterium) is very scriptural, and very necessary for communication of truth. Without it, truth cannot be fully known by the faithful, everything is left up to one's own interpretation. (Again, this is ground that has been covered in those comments in the George W. Bush post).

In terms of the specific issues you raised, in regard to women "clergy", I'm not sure of your question. The priesthood has been reserved for men alone as part of the deposit of faith which the Church received from Christ, and this hasn't changed for 2,000 years and never will. There's a whole beautiful theology that underpins this teaching, but it's probably too long to go into hear. As an aside though, suffice it to say, I don't know one orthodox Catholic woman that disagrees with this teaching, it's those who have a different agenda that most have a problem with this. I will note, though, what I just said: this is part of the deposit of faith. The Church, therefore, having received this from Christ, has no authority to change it even if it wanted to.

Married priests is a whole different story. Whether or not a priest can be married is not a matter of the deposit of faith received from Christ, this is clear by the fact that many of the apostles were married (including St. Peter himself). Celibacy in the priesthood is a discipline of the Latin Rite within the Catholic Church, meaning that historically this has been seen by the Church as a beautiful gift of the priesthood, a sacrifice that fosters greater holiness in priests and facilitates their ability to totally give of themselves in service to Christ. However, this could change whenever the Church sees fit (though I certainly don't see any need to) and indeed there other other Eastern Rites within the Catholic Church that have married priests for various reasons. There are even exceptions within the Latin Rite for men who were Lutheran, or Episcopalian, or other types of former pastors who are already married and have converted to the Catholic Church to become priests. In fact, Molly and I were married at St. Hubert's in Chanhassen, MN, which has one such married priest, a former Lutheran pastor (there are only about 100 married priests in the U.S., and the Pope himself has to approve of the exception).

If anything, hopefully I've communicated that you have to do careful research when looking at a teaching of the Catholic Church to find out whether it is actually an official teaching, and also look to see if the Church considers it a part of the deposit of faith, or an interpretation of something as being in keeping with the deposit of faith, or if it is simply a discipline (this last one being the only one that can change if the Church decides this is best).

And to relate to this post specifically - I'm still not getting why nfp is not just as evil as putting on a condom or taking a pill? You are still doing something to control an outcome, namely trying to "time" things so that pregnancy does not occur.

I'll start by copying a comment I made quite a while ago on a post on this blog, and was able to dig it up:

The more fundamental issue relates to your second question, which boils down to "how is NFP different than artificial contraception?" This is probably the single most common question in regard to NFP, so you are not alone. First and foremost, even when employing knowledge of the natural cycle of the woman to postpone pregnancy, the couple are to remain open to life. That is to say, at no time is it morally licit to close one's mind off to the acceptance of a child. NFP, properly practiced, is a simple use of God's design for the female body to implement a prayerfully discerned desire to postpone pregnancy on the part of the spouses, with an acknowledgment that if God has other ideas that they will conform their wills to His. There is no prohibition on using simple knowledge of how the female body works to decide when and when not to have marital relations. To be otherwise would be irrational, implying that we must intentionally ignore the female cycle, or impose some sort of guaranteed randomness to marital relations to ensure we at no time use knowledge of the female cycle to decide not to have relations. This is different than artificial contraception, which not only disregards the natural design of the female (or male) body, but expressly and overtly contravenes it by chemical or mechanical alteration. Such an act is an explicit statement that a child is not welcome. Additionally, it fundamentally contravenes the purpose of human sexuality, which is primarily procreation (obviously, from natural law). The spouses are saying to themselves that they want to interact sexually, strictly for that purpose. The spouses are in essence saying to each other that they are willing give themselves to each other, but not their fertility, which is the whole purpose of sexual relations.

Think of it another way. A couple is planning their wedding and they can only afford to invite a certain number of guests. Out of prudence, they decide not to invite a certain person simply as a matter of not over-spending on their reception. So they don't send that person an invitation. This is not offenseive or rude, but a legitimate response to a legitimate concern. Now, suppose that person still shows up at their wedding and reception. The couples' response will likely be one of surprise, and maybe some misunderstanding, but they accommodate the person.

What if instead, the couple not only decides they cannot afford for the person to attend their wedding and reception, but they also feel it necessary to send a specific "dis-invitation" telling that person that they are specifically NOT invited. This is far more rude and offensive than simply not sending that person an invitation. And what will happen now if that person still decides to show up? Anger, bad feelings, and a harmed relationship ensure.

Artificial contraception is in essence sending a "disinvitation" to God. It's saying, "we know how you designed our bodies and sexual intercourse, but we're not willing to accept that design, and we're certainly not willing to accept a child. We're going to do things our way, against your natural order." This is in contrast to the couple who simply says to the Lord, for instance, "we cannot afford another child right now, so we will abstain from sexual relations during God's naturally designed time of fertility in the woman's cycle. In the end, we acknowledge God's design of the human body, and his purpose for sexual relations, and let God's will be done." One mindset is inherently sinful, while the other is not.

--> Also read the link in this post to CCC 2370 for the official teaching which has a succint explanation.

"Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, 'every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible' is intrinsically evil: Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality. . . . The difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle . . . involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality."

Finally, I found the statement (paraphrasing) "abortions have increased with contraceptive use, therefore contraceptives cause abortions" to be a little bit silly (again for lack of a better word) me that is like saying "kids are happier when eating sugar, therefore sugar causes happiness". Sure, there is correlation, but is there really cause?

I think you might be getting distracted from the central issue, which is the myriad terrible consequences of contraception (of which increase in the number of abortions is one of them). However, certainly on a just a practical level, it can be proven that contraceptives have directly increased the number of abortions: many contraceptives, including the pill, are abortafacient. That is, they act in two ways, first by preventing fertilization of the egg, and second, if that fails, by hardening the uterine wall such that a fertilized egg (a new human life) cannot implant in the uterus and is rejected by the body (the new life is aborted). Women on the pill, by some accounts, have an average of two abortions a year due to this secondary action. And this mechanism of the pill, and some other contraceptives, is right in their own literature, you can simply access their literature online and read it.

Nonetheless, contraception in general also has had dire consequences for other types of abortions, for if one is contracepting (saying "no" to the possibility of life) and if by some chance the contraception fails and and new life is conceived, many are of the mindset that this "problem" must now be "fixed" with an abortion.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your reply! I think I need to read it about 5 more times to get the whole thing and of course it has generated more questions :) I don't have time to go into all that right now, I just wanted to add what I forgot with the first post - I am in every way possible: biblically, morally (can there really be a separation between those two? I digress...), personally, humanistically (is this even a word? but I think you get the concept) against abortion in every sense. Just thought I'd add that disclaimer in case you were wondering!

Molly Koop said...

Just a quick note about Fr Blake (the married priest that Brendan mentioned). He isn't at St Hubert in Chanhassen anymore. Last I heard, he was at St Joseph's in Waconia, MN. He is a wonderful man--with a wonderful family. While I was on staff at St. Hubert, he was the parish administrator before his ordination. He then was an associate pastor. He also con-celebrated at our wedding.

Anonymous said...

I read through the previous comments, and I would like to add my 2 cents here. With regard to the pill versus NFP. You are pretty sure of yourself when differentiating between the 2 mindsets. I would like to state that it is very possible to have the same attitude in mind while practicing NFP as when on the pill. In fact, the majority - we'll say 5 out of 6 here - of people I've talked to that practice NFP are very much against having more kids "right now". I just cannot settle in my mind that this is not as "inherently sinful" as the attitude of a person on the pill, who, while postponing children actively, is also enjoying a healthy sexual relationship with their spouse. Now, you may be that 6th out of 5, in terms of attitude, but I don't think you can speak in generalities about people's attitude while practicing NFP. I can personally testify that it's NOT TRUE!
Also, I would like to add that I happen to be opposed to the use of birth control (the pill) first and foremost for the following reason:
The pill - virtually EVERY kind available! - causes a less-than-hospitable environment to occur within the womb due to the thinning of the lining of the endometrium. Therefore, without the woman ever even being aware, the pill may often cause abortions. It is NOT preventative of conception, only of implantation. See Randy Alcorn's book: "Does birth control cause abortions?" for more information on this.
Because of this information, I can firmly state without blinking an eye that the pill is WRONG!!!
Maybe this would be a better argument against the pill rather than the one of perceived attitude of the couple, since this is so inconsistent.

Anonymous said...

Oops, I just read through my comment (anonymous directly above) and would like to correct my "6th out of 5" and say "6th out of 6". I want to sound somewhat intelligent here.

Brendan Koop said...

I must say, I'm not sure if I'm dealing with more than one "Anonymous" here, or if it's the same person all the way through. Even if commenters pick a random name it helps me know who I'm talking to, just a suggestion.

At any rate, hopefully you read my comment (the long one) as I talk directly in there about the pill being an abortifacient (see the end of my comment). It works two ways, first by preventing fertilization, and second by hardening the uterine lining, which can cause abortions. You are right that this is gravely immoral.

In terms of openness to life, it's hard to know your friends' motivations and comment on them from afar, but I would say that simply not desiring a child at this time is not a sin. That's the whole point of spacing one's pregnancies with NFP, if one is using knowledge of the woman's cycle to avoid pregnancy then it's kind of a given that they would prefer not to have a child at that time. However, just because a couple may have discerned that they need some space between children, for the good of their family and the spousal relationship (not for selfish or materialistic reasons), this does not mean they are not open to life. We all have our own desires and we all know those desires may not be in conformity with God's will, so the important thing is to have an attitude that whatever else may happen we only desire God's will.

Hopefully you also saw in my previous comments that it is definitely possible to not be mentally open to life while still using knowledge of the woman's cycle to avoid pregnancy, no one ever said that NFP itself results in an attitude of openness to life (though there is a tendency to this). Using NFP to avoid pregnancy because a couple really wants to afford a luxury car strikes me a situation that would be quite sinful. This is just an example.

To get to the heart of the matter, I think what you are asking is that, what if there is a couple who really does want God's will and also does have a serious reason to postpone pregnancy and the way they choose to do that is with contraception, isn't that okay? The reason it's not is, as the Church says in the Catechism, that any overt act that proposes to expressly render procreation impossible is inherently wrong because it contravenes God's design for human sexuality and God's design of our bodies. One is now separating the unitive and procreative purposes of sex, and this is why it's immoral. Even if the couples desire is to not have a child at this time, a couple practicing NFP is always at least physically open to life as there is no impediment to procreation being put in place and the unitive and procreative purposes of sexuality are being maintained.

Here's a good link with a quote from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

"Spouses are called to celebrate their conjugal love by becoming one flesh in the Lord, and to see their sexual intimacy in the context of God's creative role and the nature of marriage itself. By remaining open to life each time they come together in the conjugal embrace, by preserving "the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning" (HV 12), married couples reverence the presence of God in their union. In truth, the Church teaches that there are two aspects of marital intercourse--the strengthening of interpersonal unity between the spouses, and the procreation of new life. These two goods are inseparable--not in the sense that both must be achieved in every act of conjugal intimacy, but in the sense that one may not deliberately act against either good in any act of conjugal intimacy."

Anonymous said...

I'm still not convinced that birth control via NFP is Biblically-based. Didn't Tamar's husband in essence practice "NFP" for the enjoyment of sex alone, and look what happened to him! NFP is not fully trusting God, it is saying that you as a couple do not trust God enough to know better than you when you are ready for the next child. You are still making this decision and hoping that you are acting within God's will, when in reality you may be choosing the "okay" way - i.e. not inherently sinful, but not God's best way - a heart fully trusting and dedicated to following what He has for you/us.
Group me with the second set of "Anonymous"

Brendan Koop said...

I'm not sure what the story of Tamar has to do with NFP, it doesn't have anything to do with it that I can tell. But, I will say that you must realize if you are arguing that you think NFP being a moral means of spacing pregnancies is expressely not supported in scripture, you are in effect arguing that contraception is not supported in scripture as well (and you seem to support the moral use of some forms of contraception, so this doesn't jibe well with your argument).

At any rate, what you are focusing on is on one's mental desire (or lack thereof) to have a child, and though that certainly can be selfish or not selfish, and can factor into whether spacing pregnancies is moral or not, the main point of NFP that the Catholic Church raises as the primary issue is that there is no artificial, chemical, mechanical, barrier being put in place to expressly divide sexual relations into strictly a non-procreative act as there is when one contracepts (i.e. sexual relations used for a purpose that they were not designed). Again, to not allow use of knowledge of the female cycle would be akin to arguing that one must remain ignorant of the female cycle, or intentionally impose some sort of randomness to sexual relations to ensure knowledge of the female cycle was not being used, and this would be irrational. God did not make women fertile continuously, though he certainly could have, and thus NFP simply allows use of God's design. One's motives for doing so is a separate issue, though also important.

Jenny Clarke said...

Church teachings on contraception always lead to such interesting discussions. I think in the last post there are some misunderstandings about Catholic teachings on sexuality. The Church would teach that each act of intercourse needs to be be completed and open to life. There was a reference to Tamar and Onan in the last post.
This is from Genesis 38
Genesis 38:9 "Onan, however, knew that the descendants would not be counted as his; so whenever he had relations with his brother's widow, he wasted his seed on the ground, to avoid contributing offspring for his brother."
Onan was not practicing NFP here. Onan was having relations with Tomar, but "spilling his seed on the ground." This passage is generally used to support the teachings on contraception and masturbation.
With Onan, you see that he wanted sexual pleasure without procreation so he would climax without completing the sexual act. I don't want to get too detailed here, but this is exactly where NFP and contraception are not alike.
Like with Onan, using contraception allows a couple even with the best intentions to engage in a particular act of sexual intercourse without the chance of procreation.
With NFP each act of sexual intercourse is open to the possibility of a new life. In fertile times a couple simply abstains. There is nothing sinful about either having sexual relations or abstaining. What is sin is taking an act of intercourse and making it infertile just as Onan did. This says nothing of anyone's intentions good or bad which is another topic.
Let's say that your family is hungry and there is no money for food. Just because someone has a noble goal such as feeding their family, that doesn't justify them sealing food from the local grocery store. The point I'm trying to make is that you can't do something sinful to reach a noble goal. The Church would teach that distorting a sexual act by rendering it infertile would be a sinful way to reach maybe a noble end of limiting family size.
I hope that makes some sense. Thinking about it in these terms has really helped me understand where the Church is coming from on this.
As far as whether a couple is really open to God's will on their family size. This is a very serious thing that every couple needs to discern and to be willing to take big steps out in faith sometimes to accept the children that God wants for their family. Thanks

Brendan Koop said...

Ah, I think Jenny said what I was trying to say (a little more eloquently) :-)

Joe Clarke said...

Great conversation today. These issues are not always easily understood, and I think many great questions and answers have been exchanged. The only piece I would like to address is somewhat of a repeat throughout other posts, but, always seems to be key to the discussion. This is understanding the difference between the intent to limit family size versus the sexual act itself.

The intent and the act itself really have to be treated somewhat independently to better understand the issues. A husband’s desire or intention to feed his family is always good, but, if he robs someone’s poor little grandma to buy milk, we’d all agree that’s not ok as a good end never justifies the means.

As has been pointed out, the intent of a couple practicing NFP could be that they don’t want children so they can live a luxurious lifestyle. This is clearly sinful as is a couple who chooses contraception for the same reason.

However, though the intent is sinful in this example and a sin would in fact be committed each time either couple engaged in marital relations, the sexual act itself of the NFP couple nonetheless respects God’s natural design since nothing is inserted (pill, condom, barrier, etc.) into the act to frustrate the natural order.

So in the case of the contracepting couple, there is sin in both the intent and in the act (which is grave matter). Therefore, this would be a more serious sin than the sin of the couple practicing NFP with a sinful intent, yet does not include the grave matter of a sexual act itself that is contrary to God’s design.

Amber - The original Anonymous said...

My goodness...lots of stuff to digest! When I was in ethics class, I had to learn to debate from a non-biblical standpoint on some issues to get through to certain people and to increase the validity of my point within a secular society (of course while still maintaining that ultimately my underlying moral code lies in the bible). Could you explain this issue from a non-Catholic standpoint? I don't mean non-Christian, but just not including teachings, for example, from the Catechism - of which I don't have a personal belief of at this point.

Brendan Koop said...

Thanks, Amber. Sounds like you are well formed to engage the culture, which is such an important skill for Christians to have. I would say most of my "preaching of the Gospel" is actually done without ever referencing scripture because I interact with non-Christians on a frequent basis, and appealing to scripture doesn't fly with them. It's great to know that you value such formation as well.

Before I address your question, I do have to make one clarification/assumption. You ask if I can explain this issue from a non-Catholic standpoint, but not necessarily a non-Christian standpoint. I am assuming you aren't asking, "I don't want you to appeal to Church teaching, I only want you to appeal to scripture," I think it wouldn't be a fruitful discussion, because scripture doesn't directly and overtly address contraception (though the story of Onan in Gn 38 definitely points to what God thinks about his design for sexual relations) and then we're left (once again, like most issues) to my personal interpretation of scripture in contrast to your personal interpretation of scripture in contrast to somebody else's personal interpretation. The Bible can't be a direct handbook for many ethical questions that arise today (each of which most certainly have a "right" and a "wrong") which is why ultimately it does go back to a question of authority. It wouldn't be correct to say, for instance, "the Bible doesn't address cloning, so that must mean it's not a settled right/wrong issue (or an issue of sin) and we can each discern what God is 'calling us to'" That would be a false idea of the role of scripture. The same is true for contraception.

Anyway, you may even agree with much or all of that, but in any case, given what I just mentioned, what I will assume is that you meant a more general question of, can you explain this issue from a non-Catholic perspective, or from a perspective that doesn't involve Church authority? This is definitely a fair question, and any Catholic better be ready to do this because it comes up all the time and one can't appeal to Church teaching authority to converse on this issue with, for example, an atheist (a discussion which I have had) much less a non-Catholic Christian.

So, I guess from a logical standpoint, let me just see if I can give you a few things to think about. Absent the authority discussion, I would still encourage you to read the language in the Catechism and some of the other texts I've linked to and quoted, simply as an argument among other competing arguments. As you may know, the primary way to converse with the secular culture on issues of ethics and morality (without appealing to Church authority or to scripture) is to argue from the standpoint of "natural law" -- that is, what is the clear natural order that is involved with the question at hand, and what does that order have to tell us about the ethics of the situation in question? For instance, on the issue of abortion, such an argument can be quite effective (there are even atheists that believe abortion is wrong). One can note that nature and science alone show (whether via genetics or other analyses) that a "fetus" is human life, and so that fact alone is a serious reason not to kill that life. One can also say that it is always wrong to knowingly kill an innocent human person ("person" being a more specific and significant designation than simply human "life"), and upon agreement regarding that principle, an argument can be made that at the very least no one could claim to assuredly KNOW or be able to prove that a fetus is NOT a human person and that it would therefore be quite reckless and immoral to kill the fetus without absolute assurance that it is not a human person.

I digress, but this all leads into the same line of thinking for contraception. What one can say is that clearly the sexual act, simply by observing nature and the physical realities of the human body, has a single basic and fundamental purpose -- procreation. It is the means by which the species is propagated. One can go further and observe that there is also some form of pleasure involved, though that could simply be attributed as a necessity to give incentive ("drive") to procreate. So if procreation is the fundamental reason for the existance of sexual organs and sexual relations, and as a Christian you would grant that God designed the human body this way and obviously did so purposefully, than any act that specifically contravenes or eliminates or tries to eliminate the possibility of procreating as a function of sexual relations has NECESSARILY undermined the very purpose for which sexual relations were designed by God. One can argue, "well, God designed them for unity of husband and wife as well, and so sexual relations for strictly such a purpose are also fulfilling God's design -- one doesn't have to procreate", and this would be true, that's a perfectly valid statement. The problem is whether, in order to allow sexual relations for the purpose of unity of husband and wife, an attempt is being made at the same time to totally circumvent the procreative aspect of sexual relations. This contravenes the natural order, the way our bodies were designed by God, and so one can attribute such an action as being against God's will.

By the way, this same rationale would also apply to any type of sexual act that goes against the natural order or the clear purpose of sexual relations (such as the story of Onan in Genesis), such as homosexual acts or stimulating one's self. This is using (or abusing) the design of our bodies strictly for our own desires, and using our bodies in a way in which they were not designed for by God.

After natural law, there are also inferential arguments that can be made that, though they are not sufficient to prove the point, nonetheless are useful to point one in the right direction. A key piece of data here would be that ALL Christian denominations prior to 1930 were unanimous in agreement that contraception (in whatever form it took) was immoral, a sin. Then, in 1930, the Anglican leadership at their once-per-decade Lambeth Conference (which incidentally is going on right now) decided to budge to growing societal pressure and contemplate that contraception was allowable in certain situations. This started the fissure that has grown into the gigantic gulf that now exists in terms of what non-Catholic Christian denomenations find acceptable when it comes to contraception.

Just take a look at what the Anglican Communion approved as an official resolution at their 1920 Lambeth Conference:

"The Conference, while declining to lay down rules which will meet the needs of every abnormal case, regards with grave concern the spread in modern society of theories and practices hostile to the family. We utter an emphatic warning against the use of unnatural means for the avoidance of conception, together with the grave dangers—physical, moral, and religious—thereby incurred, and against the evils with which the extension of such use threatens the race. In opposition to the teaching which, under the name of science and religion, encourages married people in the deliberate cultivation of sexual union as an end in itself, we steadfastly uphold what must always be regarded as the governing considerations of Christian marriage. One is the primary purpose for which marriage exists—namely the continuation of the race through the gift and heritage of children; the other is the paramount importance in married life of deliberate and thoughtful self-control. We desire solemnly to commend what we have said to Christian people and to all who will hear."

And then at the 1930 conference suddenly Anglicans now said that contraceptives were legitimate "where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence."

Wow, what changed? Are we to believe that just in 10 years brand new situations arose, begging new needs for contraception? Certainly not. This one little concession to the changing opinions of society (versus simply considering what is right and wrong, regardless of societal opinion) influenced other Christian denomenations to enact concession after concession. Contraception can't have been wrong prior to 1930 and now be right, it was either right all along (and all Christian denomenations up to 1930 just missed the boat) or it has always been, and still is, wrong.

Food for thought.

Amber said...

Thanks again for your thoughts! I would agree with most of what you said. In fact, and not to start another whole discussion thread here, I have used the same logic when arguing the immorality of homosexuality or sex outside of marriage. Specifically that the primary reason for sexual relations is procreation, therefore homosexual/premarital sex goes against the design for human sexuality/relationship. Also, some have argued that Jesus never directly spoke regarding the issue. I would say that that is false, as he did speak of marriage and in those cases he was clearly talking about a man and a woman. I was wondering why the Catholic church is the only one to have clear teaching/position regarding contraception, but you have cleared that up with 1920 business....very interesting....kind of like what is going on in many denominations now regarding homosexual clergy. Why do people keep saying that Christianity needs to change/update to keep up with society?? How absurd! God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow :)

Jenny Clarke said...

I wanted to add a few other angles on the contraception issue. First, I would need to research this more, but in Paul's letters he refers to a prohibition of "sorcery" along with a list of sexual sins. I learned in an ethics class that in the Didache, which is the most ancient Early Christian writing found, the same word used for sorcery in the bible is used to talk about something people would do do try to prevent conception. They considered it "magic." Again, I'm sorry I can't give you the specific word, because its been a good 10 years and it would take a little research, but it is a really interesting argument that Paul may have been referring to some sort of contraceptive method here.

Mostly I just wanted to share a really beautiful view on the issue. Too often what is lost in the discussion is the "good news" of this message.

Throughout Scripture God uses the anaolgy of the bridegroom and the bride to describe his relationship with His people. There is the "come back to me" message in Hosea, the beautiful poetry in Song of Songs and so many more. Paul talks of a husband loving his wife as Christ loved the church.

Christ's love is completely self-giving holding nothing back. Using the scriptual analogy of the love of a bride and bridegroom mirroring the completely self-giving love of God for his people, we know that the most intimate act between a husband and wife is sexual intimacy. It is in this that we most closely imitate this amazing self-giving love. Sex isn't just something God tolerates us doing to procreate the species, IT IS HOLY. Sex isn't only practicle it is a very symbolic way of saying to your spouse I give myself to you completely, I hold nothing back.

Using contraception doesn't fit in this picture. It's saying, "I give myself to you, but not my fertility." It's like kissing your spouse with saran wrap over your face. NFP on the other hand says that if for a serious reason a couple has discerned that they shouldn't have a baby right now, and they know that the woman's body is fertile they cannot make a complete gift of themselves at that time. They need to wait until the woman is naturally not fertile, still open to the possibility of conception if God wills it. This allows us to always give all that we are in our sexual relations without "corrupting" the act by wanting to take part without giving all of our bodies at that time. As someone who has practiced NFP at times, this can be difficult. At the same time your bodies are most driving you towards eachother because they want to procreate, you have to wait. It requires self-sacrifice. It has hugely enriched our marriage to look at our sexual relationship through these eyes. I wish I could shout this message from the housetops, but people are so entrenched it their need for contraception, that most often hearts are very closed to the message.

If you want a few good sources that further develop this idea, Pope John Paul II did a series of homilies that were put together into a very long document called Theology of the Body. An author named Christopher West has taken these ideas and tries to make them less theological and more accessible, he has a book called The Good News about Sex and Marriage, and maybe a few more.

Sorry this was so long, I could talk all day.....

Molly Koop said...

Just another note from a woman's many women (married or not) feel very used sexually-and a lot of that stems from this need in society to have all the sex we want (or even deserve) without all the consequences (babies). Sex that attempts to inhibit conception is also sex that doesn't fully embrace the beautiful design of the female (and male) body. When a couple practices NFP, a man must embrace his wife in her entirety, including her fertility. Couples who practice NFP report more fulfilling and complete intimacy and a divorce rate below 1%. Although many have accused those who practice NFP of practicing a "boring abstinence regimen" or of being "sexual prisoners" I don't know one person who practices NFP who would agree that that is true. Sex free of contraception is true freedom.

Amber said...

Hi again :) I'm wondering if you could please quote me some scripture in regards to women clergy? Also, and I apologize, could you please reiterate (or just re-summarize) the meaning of "deposit of faith"?

Brendan Koop said...


Women and the priesthood is another issue on which scripture does not have an overt reference, only indirect material which acts as the source of this constant teaching of the Catholic Church (which is why this question requires an authority on earth that is protected from error). In this case, Christ's selection of all men for his apostles, who were the first priests of the Church, is regarded as being part of the deposit of faith handed to the Church, which the Church does not have authority to change.

When one speaks of the "deposit of faith", essentially this means something that comes from divine revelation (which is why the Church has no authority to change it). Here's what the Catechism says about this in paragraphs 85-86:

"The Magisterium of the Church

'The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.' This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.

'Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith.'"

Hopefully that assists with the definition of "deposit of faith".

I would definitely try and understand that priesthood is very different than what some non-Catholic Christians would call a "minister" or something similar. The question is not whether women can be influential members of the Church, whether women have many unique gifts to contribute to the Church that men don't have, etc. The question is whether women can be priests, i.e. someone who is able to consecrate the Eucharist, to administer the sacraments, etc. That is a very unique position, and that position relies on apostolic succession, i.e. tracing ordination in an unbroken line back to the apostles, who were all men. The Church has always said that Jesus' choice of all men for his apostles was not an accident, and Jesus himself being a man was not an accident. When a priest administers the sacraments, he does so "in persona Christi", in the person of Christ, and as such the priest being a man in order to be in the person of Christ is very important. But it goes much beyond that. Honestly, I haven't found a better summary and commentary on the issue for anyone who's interested than this link to a talk given by Dr. Peter Kreeft. It's only 1 hour and would be worth your time, and it's made available in mp3 so you can download it and put it on your iPod to listen to if you like (or you can listen over the computer). If you are interested in this question, this is a good place to start.

Amber said...

I read a story today regarding a woman who was "cured" of cancer by flying half way around the world to pray to a dead priest. Now, while I fully believe in the healing power of The Great Physician, I am also fully perplexed at this. Why in the world would we need to pray to anyone other than the members of the trinity for any of our needs? I also understand that we can have others be intersessors (sp?) on our behalf, but this was clearly stated as her praying TO the priest. This also leads me to another question I've been meaning to address. Please explain confession to me! I will tell you straight out that I don't believe in/or subscribe to it and think it was an act of the historic church (when the church was also the governing authority) to control the people. I'm pretty sure that there is no one that has the ability to "absolve" sins other than God himself, but am open to your thoughts :)

Brendan Koop said...

Hi Amber, sorry for the delay in responding, but we just returned from vacation so I hadn't seen your comment until just now.

Without any specifics regarding the situation you described it's hard to comment, I don't want to presume anything. So I guess the only item I would comment on is that the reference of the person praying "to" a canonized saint (I am assuming), this is confusing language though I must say you'll find it often used. I personally avoid it because it isn't necessary and promotes confusion in that it may seem that the person that one is asking to intercede would have power of their own accord, which they do not. But, I can tell you that when you hear that someone is praying "to" a saint, what is in fact meant is that the person is asking the saint to pray for them to our Lord, to intercede for them. Saints, which are those members of the Body of Christ, the Church, that are in heaven, can pray for us just as you would ask a friend or relative to pray for you. Indeed, those who are in heaven are even more alive than we are, in a sense, as they are enjoying the beatific vision of seeing God face to face and thus are in a wonderful position to pray for others. At any rate, I always use the words, especially with our children, that we "ask a saint to pray for us" instead of "we pray to a saint." And certainly there have been many graces and miracles that have been poured out through the intercession of saints in heaven, and so it is not out of the question that a person asked for the prayers of a saint on their behalf and a miracle occurred.

In terms of confession, a sacrament in the Catholic Church, the Church would again consider this gift to us as part of the deposit of faith, as it was not invented by man but rather handed to the Church (Christ's apostles) by Christ himself. You noted:

"I'm pretty sure that there is no one that has the ability to 'absolve' sins other than God himself, but am open to your thoughts :)"

But we know that human beings can be given the authority to forgive sins straight from scripture. Christ speaks to his apostles in Jn 20:21-23

"'As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.' And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained'"

Here Christ commissions his apostles as his earthly representatives (with Peter as the first among the apostles) and leaders of his Church, and gives them gift of the Holy Spirit to forgive sins in his name.

And again, Christ speaks to Peter in calling him the Rock on which he will found his Church in Mt 16:19:

"And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

These are stunning passages in that it is amazing how God has chosen to reveal himself to us through his Church. Our God is an incarnational God; that is, he is a physical God who interacts with us in physical ways. He did not have to become man and suffer and die on a cross and rise from the dead in order to reconcile us to himself, and yet he did this in this way in order to communicate his love for us and that all may come to believe. Again, God did not have to grant authority to forgive sins to human beings, and yet he clearly did so. Why? This is a gift from God, part of the deposit of faith, and thus will never be fully explained, but one can note that we benefit from hearing the words "I absolve you of your sins" and the certainty of knowing our sins are forgiven. We also benefit from the accountability that confession provides, and a disincentive to sin and an encouragement to holiness. Some of the holiest people I know go to confession on a weekly basis, which seems counter intuitive, except it is precisely these people who are truly receiving God's graces on a regular basis to live a holy life, and it is these people who are constantly working to become more and more like Christ. Confession, actually called the Sacrament of Reconciliation, since it is a sacrament it is a means by which Christ uses his Church on earth to dispense graces (which is a characteristic of sacraments) such that not only are we forgiven of our sins but we are also given graces to repent and turn our back on our previous ways.

None of this is to say that any human being, including the apostles, could forgive sins of their own accord. All authority ultimately lies in God alone. In the case of confession, this is another instance where a priest or bishop of the Church, successors of the apostles, stand "in persona Christi," -- in the person of Christ. Therefore, at the moment of absolution it is Christ who is forgiving our sins through the priest, not the person themselves. This is also not to say that God cannot forgive sins whenever and however he should choose, he certainly can. But despite this, God did choose to bless us with the gift of confession and thus it is something that Catholics do well to take advantage of as often as they can.

Just to close, another benefit of confession is that it makes real the fact that our sin not only has an affect on our relationship with God, it has an affect on our relationship with each other. The affects of sin go beyond just "me and Jesus," they harm the Body of Christ, the Church, because we are members of the Body of Christ and what affects one part of the Body affects the whole. Confession not only allows reconciliation with God, but also reconciliation with the Church.

Hopefully this answers some of your questions.