Sunday, February 01, 2009

Contraception epilogue

This was originally a comment that I affixed to the third part of the series. But, it seems to me that it can get buried there.

Perhaps, for discussion we can look a bit closer at the question of what practical difference there is between Natural Family Planning (NFP) and contraception; or, as it has been put, what distinction may rightly be made between "natural" and "artificial." My analysis of Resolution 15 (Lambeth Conference 1930) was based on the assumption made by almost everyone, then as now, that the distinction is self-evident, and that the distinction is a moral one.

But, is it really? Can NFP be used the same way, or rather for the same purpose, as contraception? Consider that in terms of the second part of Resolution 15 itself:

"The Conference records its strong condemnation of the use of any methods of conception control from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience."

The Roman Catholics consider the matter to be decided; but they would also have to accept the teaching that prolonged use of NFP to avoid having children cannot be justified anymore than use of contraceptives for the same purpose. I have, in my previous essays, simply put the matter in perspective, explained the reasoning made for the distinction, in many ways letting my "inner historian" guide the course of writing. But, it is only right to see this question in light of moral theology, and open the floor to discussion. Is method the only issue, or is intent every bit as important?

In addition

For further consideration, what has happened to human nature itself? The modern extreme version of feminism has been used by the current President of the United States as a reason to defend the Roe vs. Wade ruling. That is, abortion only makes the world fair for women, so that they have the same opportunities as men. In a very real way, this is evidence of how right Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon was in his now somewhat famous 2003 editorial, which was republished here as part one of the Contraception series. Contraception, for the modern feminist, plays very much the same role as abortion, which is its chief "back up".

The problem is, this is not a correction of man-made societal evolution, something in addition to human nature. The fact that the world is fundamentally unfair, in that men and women simply cannot trade roles, is a good thing. It is part of the creation, and essential to what we are as human beings. Every attempt to correct God's "mistakes" in the design of nature, or to even the playing field, is destructive of morals, and even of human personality. The psychological need of a man is fulfilled, generally, by being the provider, protector and leader. The pyschological need of the woman, generally speaking, is to be so valued and loved by the man that she is provided for, protected and (yes) led. This frees her to give in to her nature, and be a mother. By "mother" I do not mean simply that she bears children, brings them to birth, and then hands them off while she takes on the world as her primary occupation. Most women simply cannot "bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let Johnny forget he's a man." No one can be in two places at a time, and no one can work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

I say "generally speaking," because select individuals have callings that appear to be exceptions to many general rules, and the purpose of this essay is not to call for a restriction on freedom, or to eliminate opportunities for women who really might do better to have careers. But, the real problem today is not that women are barred from the professions; it is, rather, that the high calling of motherhood is not treated with the respect it deserves; and also that men are discouraged from taking their role. This thinking has created many single mother households that can never escape poverty, and in which innocent, helpless bastard children are in danger of abuse from men who are not their fathers at all.

In the name of human nature, as God made it, it is time for a new "women's liberation" movement; one that treats the traditional family and traditional sex roles with the respect they deserve, for the happiness they bring, and for the good of the next generation.

52 comments:

Sandra McColl said...

I recall hearing, I don't know now whether it was a synod speech or a radio broadcast, in which one of the proponents of the purported ordination of women set forth the reasons why it was appropriate to make priestesses now (which was the late 80s). One of them was the development of reliable methods of contraception. I thought to myself, 'The majority of Christendom doesn't believe (at least officially) that it's even permissible, but here it is used as a justification for a sacramental novelty.'

But then, logic was never the strong suit of these people.

Anonymous said...

"But God looks at the heart.."

Contraception or "natural" methods? My question is "What's the difference?"

The intention of both is to avoid pregnancy. It's just that the couple who avoids conception "naturally" can brag that they didn't use a pill or surgery, but it seems to me that the end result is the same: A baby is avoided.

I'm sorry but I don't see the difference. The intentions are the same, no matter what "method" you sanctify.

Bruce said...

Doesn't the commandment (blessing?) to be fruitful and multiply/increase your numbers mean having at least 3 children?

poetreader said...

Well, if one were to take this as specifc law to be interpreted legally, and to insist that it applied to each individual family, it would certainly seem so. However, I think that would be reading too much into it.

Even so, Bruce, you call our attention to something important. Speaking to the race of humankind, God did express a desire and call upon us, as a species, to share his desire. That would seem to indicate a bias toward having children, and perhaps a problem with the Western European situation of reproduction below replacement levels. What I'm sensing is a developing prejudice agains life, against children, against humanity itself. Take note of those who speak of humanity as a disease upon the face of the earth that ought to be allowed to become extinct.

ed

Pamela said...

YOU SAID "The Roman Catholics consider the matter to be decided; but they would also have to accept the teaching that prolonged use of NFP to avoid having children cannot be justified anymore than use of contraceptives for the same purpose"

With all due respect you are mistaken on the Catholic Church's teaching.

One must have a serious reason to use Natural Family Planning. She has always taught that children are the supreme gift of marriage. To avoid this gift is a sin without just reasons. And if the reason is just, then NFP, and NFP only. Because after all, NFP is abstenance...and respects the diginity of the persons unlike contraception.

The end does not justfiy the means. Just as murder is not the same as natural death, thus artifical contraception is not he same as NFP.

But you are right. NFP can be used with a contraceptive mentality However the church does not agree to that use.

Pamela said...

Anonymous...

Again...the end does not justfify the means.

What's the difference in killing grandma, and letting her die naturally?

What's the difference in throwing up your food and going on a diet?

What's the difference in abortion and miscarriage?

I hope that clarifies the difference. A blanket statement that they both achieve the same "end" does not justify the method.

Contraception is giving God a big NO! And want the pleasure without the consequences.

Thus contraception says "sterile sex is OK"...
Thus premarital sex is Ok...thus abortion is OK as a backup to contraception... thus homosexual sex is OK....a very evil cycle.

Bruce said...

Agreed and I don't mean to suggest the commandment/blessing is to be interpreted as a formula for how many we should have. But why 2 kids as the norm? Seems rather arbitrary. After we had our daughter we constantly heard things like "well you've got your girl so now you're done, right?"

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Pamela wrote:

With all due respect you are mistaken on the Catholic Church's teaching...But you are right..NFP can be used with a contraceptive mentality However the church does not agree to that use.

Well, which is it? Am I right or wrong about what the Roman Catholic Church teaches? It seems I understand it quite well. A good question is, how many of her own children understand it?

If NFP can be used to prevent a family, as "birth control" for those who do not want children, we are back to the basic question.

Pamela said...

Fr. Hart:

Bingo. Her children don't understand the church's teaching because priests stopped telling them. That is slowly changing.

When I say NFP use with a contraceptive mentality I mean for selfish use (i.e. materialism, convenience, etc.) Licit use of NFP might be for example pregnancy as detrimental to the woman's health, or extreme poverty.

Contraceptives in and of themselves is intrinsically evil, therefore grave matter, therefore at risk of mortal sin.

NFP is not intrinsically evil even when used for selfish reasons, so therefore cannot be equated with contraception.

poetreader said...

I think, in the attempt to distinguish natural and artificial means we're struggling for a finer distinction than people are able to make. Is the intent of whatever action one takes the intent to prevent a child from being born? I don't know about anyone else, but that thought makes me acutely uncomfortable. God's expressed desire, as Bruce pointed out, is that a married couple will be desirous of children, will be anxious to bring life into the world. When the birth of a child is regarded as a 'mistake' or a disaster or an annoyance, I cannot but feel the attitude to be sinful, or at least to approach that place.

Now, abstinece, simply not doing something is a different matter from taking measures for prevention, but I fail to see how the detailed and agonized searching of calendars, use of themometers, and the like, can be considered mere abstinence. It looks a great deal to me like taking distinct and artificial means to prevent a conception. I don't like to be the judge of what particular others do, and would refuse to condemn them as sinners, but if they are not considering these questions, I'm concerned. If "NFP" can be thought permitted as a method of contraception, then we are, I fear, in danger of teaching people to think other than God desires.

I'm not sure of answers here, but I do have very serious questions and feel that the easy out so often given is dangerous.

ed

Pamela said...

Poetreader:

You bring up very legitimate concerns.

However, if there is a serious reason to avoid pregnancy, should a married couple abstain indefinitely? If your answer is no, then what harm is there in reading the God given signs of a woman's fertility? Aren't these signs written into her body by the creator himself? And might discovering those signs enhance the beauty of God's design and foster a deeper appreciation for the body? (I'm not being facetious I'm interested in your continuing thoughts on this subject)

poetreader said...

I think what we run into here is that we can ask questions, but there is a limit as to how far we can go in answering them. It appears to me that our Western approach to moral theology looks rather too much like making laws and then looking for loopholes. Isn't that the kind of thing the Pharisees were doing, and were scolded for doing by the only Authority that matters? We can set principles and guidelines, and we can discuss matters of intent, but, when it gets dicey, can we really judge hearts with confidence? I tremble at the presumption that leads us to go as far as we do.

Pamela wrote:
However, if there is a serious reason to avoid pregnancy, should a married couple abstain indefinitely?

Perhaps, at least sometimes, they should. If becoming pregnant would threaten the life of the mother, there's no method, including NFP, other than sterilization (and when, if ever, is that permitted?) that guarantees that an act of intercourse will not produce a pregnancy. If reliability is of high importance, then permanent abstinence is actually what is required. My wife and I were not successful in having children, though we'd really wanted them. When she was diagnosed with cancer and receiving chemotherapy, we decided the risk was too great, both for her and for any potential child, and we did abstain to the end.

If your answer is no, then what harm is there in reading the God given signs of a woman's fertility? Aren't these signs written into her body by the creator himself? And might discovering those signs enhance the beauty of God's design and foster a deeper appreciation for the body?

I suppose it could be seen that way, and there may indeed be those who can see it that way, but I have no personal contact with anyone for whom it did seem that way. To the contrary, I've heard many comments on how thoroughly the complexities of the procedure took the romance away, and how unpleasant and distasteful it has made sex for some. That's why I refused to make a statement, but rather asked a basically unanswerable question. Yes, the woman's body is a marvelous creation, wonderful in its complexities, but how natural is it to give the kind of attention that is needed to make NFP approach reliability? I simply wonder about that.

Ultimately, I do believe we can only go so far in making specific rules, and conscience needs to reign, but I fear that simply declaring NFP to be OK, and, in effect, to be the approved Catholic method, may be leading people to fail to give due moral consideration, and perhaps, thus, to enter into sin of intention.

ed

Pamela said...

poetreader:

Your words do give me pause...

And no sterilization is never permitted.

You said, "but I have no personal contact with anyone for whom it did seem that way. To the contrary, I've heard many comments on how thoroughly the complexities of the procedure took the romance away, and how unpleasant and distasteful it has made sex for some."

I have met so many couples for whom this was not the case. And actually we tout the <5% divorce rate among NFP users to support the satisfaction. Perhaps that's only within the context of a culture with a 50% divorce rate that has forgotten how to communicate or welcome children.

The secret to NFP is that after awhile, most couples don't want to "abstain" and so thier selfish reasons for abstaining melt away and they little by little grow in the virtue of generosity. That's why NFP users have "so many kids". It's not because the method isn't effective, it's because the lifestyle encourages generousity to children. Perhaps NFP is just "training wheels" that eventually goes out the window once they trust God. It's much easier to do that than give into the cultural norms of condoms and pills.

You said,"but how natural is it to give the kind of attention that is needed to make NFP approach reliability?"

I will say they may not require as much attention as you might think. There are some methods that only require a single simple observation that is second nature (won't get into details). Still, you have made me think.

Finally I don't believe "conscience needs to reign" because after all that would make Truth subjective. And it's not all relative. Thank you for the thought provoking comments.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Pamela wrote:

Finally I don't believe "conscience needs to reign" because after all that would make Truth subjective.

Allow me to explain the over all context of how conscience is used by Continuing Anglicans: "The conscience, as the inherent knowledge of right and wrong, cannot stand alone as a sovereign arbiter of morals. Every Christian is obligated to form his conscience by the Divine Moral Law and the Mind of Christ as revealed in Holy Scriptures, and by the teaching and Tradition of the Church. We hold that when the Christian conscience is thus properly informed and ruled, it must affirm the following moral principles."

-Affirmation of St. Louis

poetreader said...

Thyanbks, Father Hart, that's precisely what I was trying to say. Rather than legislating details we need to teach moral principles. One who understands the meaning of his actions is well equipped to make moral decisions. One who merely follows rules is likely looking for a way around the rules. Conscience, so construed, is a far higher level of moral thought.

Pamela,
I'm really glad that your experience with NFP familes has been more positive than mine, and I like your image of training wheels. If NFP truly does have the result of turning people's desires toward children, in those casesd I'd be far less negative toward it. This has been an instructive discussion.

And, of course, my question about sterilization was strictly rhetorical - even when the only other choice is permanent abstinence.

ed

Pamela said...

OK....good...I agree....your conscience must be properly formed. Catholics would agree :)

Thank you for the interesting conversation. I spend most of my time trying to convince people contraception and abortion are wrong, but I rarely have conversations about whether NFP is wrong. It's only at those times that I feel so "liberal" :)

Bruce said...

I'm all for tradition and Right Reason but how about some good old fashioned Bible-thumping and fear of the Lord? Something Onan did brought down a heapin' helpin' of wrath on him.

An ACC Bishop said...

Merely a personal opinion.


Pamela writes:

Again...the end does not justfify the means.

What's the difference in killing grandma, and letting her die naturally?

What's the difference in throwing up your food and going on a diet?

What's the difference in abortion and miscarriage?

I hope that clarifies the difference.
A blanket statement that they both achieve the same "end" does not justify the method.
Well, nothing can justify the means but the end, but presumably Pamela means that a good end does not justify evil means, which is quite true. But the point in question is whether or not the natural/artificial distinction in Humanae vitae is justified or not. To begin by assuming what is in question is question-begging. I do not grant Pamela's premises that the distinction is valid and that 'artificial' contraception is intrinsically evil.

Let me ask some other questions: What's the difference between damming and not damming a river to prevent occasional flooding which may result from natural, generally beneficent rainfall? Is the human end of safety from flooding not sufficient to justify some interference with a natural process? God's gifts of freedom and knowledge enable us to regulate natural processes through the use of our reason and technologies. I entirely agree that a contraceptive mentality is evil if it presents conception or children as evils to be simply avoided. I disagree that there is anything wrong about reasonable regulation of conception: and Rome agrees by allowing 'natural' family planning.

What is the difference between eating or not eating a little food with some friends in order to be sociable, even if one is not hungry? May not one eat in order to pursue the humane end of a meal while divorcing that act on occasion in whole or part from its more basic or primitive 'natural' purpose? Or must one simply abstain from eating anything in such a case so as to avoid the sinful divorce of a natural act from one of its natural ends? Such abstention seems both absurd and yet also a close parallel to Pamela's argument.

Pamela might argue that the closer parallel to my position is her distinction between throwing up and dieting. But what about eating while taking a medication which inhibits the absorption of calories: is that immoral? If so, why? The eating is the same: the difference concerns circumstances which affect the possible outcomes of the eating. Pamela's argument would force us to say that inhibition of the absorption of calories is intrinsically immoral and unnatural.

The natural law is followed in differing way by differing creatures. A dropped rock falls without any agency or will on its part. So too human being are subject to such laws of physics and chemistry. Other aspects of our being, including the nutritive and reproductive, are shared by humans and animals. On this level of our being we are inclined to maintain ourselves in being both as individuals and as species. Still other aspects of our being are distinctively human, and these include aspects of our intellectual life, sociability, and faith. We might call these three levels the physical, the animal, and the humane.

One approach to morals is to argue that since the higher levels of being depend upon the lower, imperatives or tendencies flowing from the lower level are more pressing and binding. We might call this the 'building block' approach. Sexual intercourse has both an animal end (reproduction) and a distinctly humane end (the 'unitive' end of mutual society and comfort). On the building block view, if sex is consciously directed away from the animal end, it is unnatural and evil.

However, another approach, which we might call the 'integrative', gives priority to the higher level of being as embracing but also sometimes modifying the lower. So we may eat for a sacramental or social purpose, even when not at all hungry or even if the eating in question is somewhat contrary to our animal need or appetite. We even condemn people who eat in an animal way rather than in a humane way. Likewise, sexual intercourse is licit if it serves the humane end of building love in a marriage even when it is consciously divorced for a time and in some circumstances from reproduction.

poetreader said...

With all due respect, bishop, I'm afraid I find your arguments to bypass the one crucial issue here, and that is that there are potentially three lives, rather than a mere two, involved. I do have trouble making an objective judgment in individual cases, but I have serious questions that have to be faced, that, if not adequately answered, leave the action too doubtful to undertake in full moral sureness.

Every act of sex has in it the potentiality of bringing a new life into the world, and this potentiality is the principal (if not, indeed, the only) biological purpose of the act. Is it really all right to undertake the act while wishing that its God-created end not occur, indeed while doing everything one can to see that it not occur? If life is the object (which, at least in part it is), then is it not perhaps in opposition to life itself that we frustrate that purpose? This is personal and subjective, but the very thought gives me the willies. I cannot understand how it could be OK. Even so, indivduals, though they would not receive permission from me, neither would I be so bold as to speak condemnation.

ed

Pamela said...

I believe the problem here is that we disagree that the creation of children is merely an "animal end."

As creatures made in the image and likeness of God we are called to more than mere animal instinct. Some individuals might choose this route, but in the life of Grace we are called to share in divine life not animal life.

Authentic love is free, total, faithful, and fruitful. This is how God loves and we are called to love in the same way. This was most perfectly shown by Christ. What if Christ had chosen to contracept...hold a part of himself back and not sacrifice himself completely?

Authentic love between a husband and wife must also be free, total, faithful, and fruitful. Contraception violates this by becoming slaves to our instincts, holding back a part of ourselves, and rejecting the opportunity to cooperate with God's creative power of conceiving a child.

Sex is the sign of the marriage sacrament (like water to baptism). Therefore, Sex is a holy activity between two married people to image God and his Trinitarian nature (The Father and Son love each other and their love creates the Holy Spirit....A man and woman love each other and their love can bring forth a child).

The body is the animating force of the soul, and you can't separate yourself from your fertility. To reject someone's fertility is to reject the person. "I love you for better or worse accept for the possible worse of having a child???" No. "I take all of you accept your fertility??" No.

In Eph.5: St. Paul says that husbands and wives should love each other as Christ loves the church. The Husband is the model of Christ and the wife the model of the Church. Like Christ, husbands must say "This is my body given up for you." Contraception says "This is my body NOT given up for you." Like Mary wives must say "Be it done to me according to your word." Contraception says "Let it NOT be done to me according to your word."

A final analogy as to why Contraception in and of itself is wrong:

The Wedding Invitation... as explained by Christopher West:
You are planning your wedding. And you decide to send out wedding invitations. There are probably people you don't want to invite for good reason. Do you "abstain" from sending them an invitation, or do you send them a "dis-invitation"? "We're getting married on June 4th and we DON'T want you to be there so don't come." Of course not! That would be silly, rude, and mean! I'd say it would be an obvious breach of your relationship with that person. When we contracept, we are sending God a disinvitation. He wants to be there at the creative act that he designed and gave you as a gift, but he opens the envelope and it says "DON'T COME". Couples who abstain to avoid pregnancy are simply not sending God an invitation. And if there is a good reason God will understand and there is no breach of the relationship. To go further with the analogy, what if out of courtesy you send an invitation to an Aunt who lives half way around the world in Japan. There is a 99% chance that she won't show up. And if she DID show up you'd be thrilled to see her! This is what is happening when the married couple have sex during the infertile time. God says "Go ahead...I'm out of town...You couldn't make a kid without me even if you wanted to." There is a 99% chance he won't come but if he does, you were open to life and you are thrilled to welcome another child and trust in God's will. Let's take the analogy even further. Let's say the person you sent the disinvitation to SHOWS UP to the wedding anyways. You'd be mad! And that's exactly what happens when we contracept and get pregnant anyways. God showed up even after you said No. And that my friends is how we have created a culture of death that kills 1.4 million children every year....why 1/3 of our generation is gone...why society is facing underpopulation....why children are abused more and more....because we have become a culture obsessed with sex at any cost and we are slaves to it. We are no longer a society that welcomes children as gifts from God.

Sex is good....Sex is great.... but Sex is Holy, God made it and the very first commandment was "Be fruitful and multiply." Because we are a people of grace, we must respect our bodies as Temples of the Holy Spirit and not eat the fruit of the tree that says "I can be like God...I will decide what is good and what is evil".

Sandra McColl said...

As I view them (and I may view things wrongly), the Church's moral teachings are a counsel of perfection. Perfection--holiness-- is what God intends and desires for us, but that doesn't make it easy. It is the task of the Church to teach holiness and counsels of moral perfection, and gently but firmly to guide us to conformity with the will of God. For most, if not all, of us, that will be a struggle, in consequence of the Fall. We shouldn't expect that the right way is the easy way; rather, we should expect the opposite. On the one hand I have a certain sympathy with what ACC Bishop has said, especially in a society where infant mortality is so mercifully low, but on the other hand I see just where the permissive approach to mechanical and medical contraception has led western society and I have to admit that it's in a dire mess. I think that counsels of perfection have to be taught from the pulpit in the face of resistance and individual pastoral situations handled with compassion.

There. Have I said anything?

poetreader said...

Thank you, ladies!

I just posted two well-written and incisive comments from two of our female readers. Who says women can't do theology? Here we have two examples of women in the tradition of SS Theresa of Avila and of Lisieux, of Evelyn Underhill, and of many others, ancient and modern, who, though not elegible for sacramental ordination, have richly blessed the Church with their teaching. May their tribe increase!

I'm in full agreement with both of them, and am especially mived by Sandra's reminder that God's way is not necessarily the easy way -- that, in fact, it ordinarily is not. I've just been saying just that to a young on-line friend, who has been wrestling for several years with his same-sex attraction, and has, up until now, manfully struggled to resist those temptations. He's been receiving advice from 'liberal' RCs (rebels against their church, actually) who have convinced him that, in effect, God has changed His mind. The narrow path is too hard, costs too much, and gets in the way of 'sef-fulfillment'. So he is puposing to live that lifestyle. But the broad way leads only to destruction.

That's a general principle. If our earthly desires are satisfied, we need to examine closely if we are really following God.

To take up our cross is to make decisions that go against what we want, and that really do cost something -- everything, actually. We have no rights but the right to offer ourselves, our souls and bodies, our minds and emotions, to be a living sacrifice, our own pitiful little offering along with Jesus' one perfect Sacrifice. Doesn't this apply to abortion, to divorce, and to birth control? Should the question be how much we can get away with in pleasing ourselves, or should it be how much we can give away in our desire to please God?

ed

John A. Hollister said...

Pamela wrote: "The Father and Son love each other and their love creates the Holy Spirit...."

Unfortunately, that suggests that the Third Person of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity is a Creature and not God. I would be more comfortable if it were rephrased to: "The Father and the Son love each other and from their love proceeds the Holy Spirit...."

John A. Hollister+

An ACC bishop said...

(An opinion rather than official teaching)

Ed writes: 'Every act of sex has in it the potentiality of bringing a new life into the world, and this potentiality is the principal (if not, indeed, the only) biological purpose of the act. Is it really all right to undertake the act while wishing that its God-created end not occur, indeed while doing everything one can to see that it not occur?'

Pleasure is a biological fact and a good, and pursuit of pleasure is in fact the principal biological purpose of the act for a whole bunch of people much of the time. As to whether sexual intercourse may be separated from one of its God-created ends, under some circumstances and for some period of time: I have argued that it may be.

The argument that the natural/artificial distinction is valid and that all artificial contraception is unnatural and immoral leads to some very odd conclusions. For instance, a married couple having sex with a condom are, on this theory, engaged in immoral, unnatural, disordered sex. That is, the sex act in that case is intrinsically immoral. However, a promiscuous man having sex with a prostitute and without using a condom is on this theory doing something immoral because of its circumstances, yet the sex act itself in that case is not intrinsically immoral since it is open to the natural procreative end of sex. Odd.

Still, Pamela's observations about the actual experience of couples using NFP need to be taken very seriously. While we may disagree about Humanae vitae, I think most people reading this will agree that very, very many people using contraception do so thoughtlessly and for inadequate reasons. Families do tend to be too small now, the contraceptive mentality is too widespread, and clergy do not often enough encourage prudent openness to more children.

Bob said...

What about marital relations during pregnency? The Church has never condemned that. Since St.Paul also said "come together again" to avoid temptations, we see in these exceptions that not every such coming together must be for the chief purpose of precreation.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

I assume Bob's fingers slipped, and he meant to write the word "procreation."

Sandra McColl said...

"Who says women can't do theology?"

Nobody I've noticed on this blog.

"Pleasure is a biological fact and a good"

Yes, but we are called to deny ourselves. I write as one for whom denying myself isn't anything I'm particularly good at. I've also never been married, so I'm probably not all that qualified to pontificate, and I'm certainly in no position to judge.

But how much earthly pleasure is too much? And has the Fall impacted on our biology to the point that people's appetites for certain pleasures are more than is good for them?

When I was young, I think people limited the size of their families for the sake of the children--so they could afford to give them the education they hadn't had and plenty of individual attention and comfortable living conditions. But now they seem to put off having children at all--while they get where they want in their careers, buy large houses (or any houses at all, since you need two incomes to buy one--this itself being an effect) and luxury cars and go around the world--until it's so late that they have to resort to artificial means and we've got freezers full of embryos that not even the Vatican knows what to do with (and, let's face it, the Vatican has a strong opinion on most things of a moral nature), and marriages and marriage-like relationships founded on expectations of enjoyment of sexual intercourse for which the benchmark is set at the kitchen scene in Fatal Attraction. I think we can't really be trusted to do things for the right reasons, or in the right amount of moderation.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

While I respect the contribution, written from a Natural Law perspective, from “An ACC Bishop” defending the use of artificial contraception in certain circumstances, I am of the opinion that the traditional position against such use must remain the default teaching. The reason for this is quite simple: the authority of the consensual Patristic and Ecclesial teaching (and its interpretation of Scripture) must take precedence over plausible but defeasible arguments based on reason alone, and there does seem to be such a consensus against any deliberate and active prevention of conception in sexual intercourse.

Some of the relevant evidence for this consensus may be found here: http://www.hli.org/seminarians_eastern_orthodoxy_contraception.html

I will ask our readers indulgence in quoting some things I wrote some time ago on this blog in coments regarding this very issue.

“Further to NFP and the Patristic Catena implying the early universal teaching was that sexual intercourse within marriage was only legitimate if undertaken with the specific and positive intention to procreate, it is worth noting that Chrysostom and others disagreed with that extreme a thesis. Chrysostom even said that there was nothing to criticise in married couples joining together after they had ceased to be fertile due to age. So, there is, it seems, a true consensus against artificial contraception (and not just that which causes abortions or enables fronication, but even within marriage) but not against sexual acts within marriage knowingly undertaken without any chance of procreation.

“However, since a number of the explicit condemnations of contraception in the Fathers proceed from the more extreme view, and this view is now rejected through generally accepted teaching that the unitive end of marriage is as important as the procreative end, we should be careful not to use arguments, even from the Fathers, based on false premises. Thus, our use of them has to be selective. This, BTW, is not an argument by me to justify contraception.

...

“[E]ven if we were to excise Ss. Hippolytus, Jerome, Caesarius of Arles and Augustine ... for the sake of argument [due to their purported semi-Manichean tendencies], we would still have the statements of St John Chrysostom, the premier Eastern Doctor of his age. His references to her who "does not kill what is formed but prevents its formation" and those "not only killing the newborn, but even acting to prevent their beginning to live" are overwhelming evidence that he condemned non-abortifacient contraception. And, given that he is the Father usually cited as having the most positive view of sex within marriage and avoiding the extremism of much of the Western tradition, this condemnation of his is very significant.

...

“Nevertheless, it should be noted that, strictly speaking, Augustine in these quotations does not condemn sexual pleasure within marriage as sinful in itself, but characterises it as venially sinful if it is a motivational cause rather than merely a consequence of the act. Like you, I do not agree with even that, but it is worthwhile to accurately represent those with whom we disagree.

“However, the rejection of the views of Augustine, Pope Gregory, and a plethora of other Fathers, E and W, who had opinions such as the belief sexual intercourse was a result of the Fall, does not change the fact that there is no mention of the active prevention of conception by the Fathers that is positive, but many that are negative. This in conjunction with the constant teaching of the whole Church before the 20th Century is what makes it the default position that all artificial contraception is impermissible.

“It is not about papal infallibility ex cathedra, which was not even invoked over Humanae Vitae, it is about Holy Tradition and eschewing any apparent innovations, unless it can be shown conclusively that the context addressed by the Fathers is essentially different to that faced today in some theologically significant way. The burden of proof lies on the innovators. I do not dogmatically rule out the possibility that such conditions could be fulfilled. For example, the oft-cited divine command in Genesis to "be fruitful and multiply and fill the Earth" assumes there is a point when the Earth is full -- and environmental considerations would be relevant to this. And, it is possible that, once extreme Western views have been excised from consideration as being both unbiblical and not satisfying the Vincentian Canon, the remaining condemnations of contraception might be found to all assume permanent sterilisation or incipient abortion or sinful motives related to social status or wealth etc., rather than merely spacing out children. Maybe, but maybe not. It is at least as likely we will find a universal condemnation implicitly or explicitly based on both Scripture and Natural Law that makes all such nuances irrelevant. The point is that the burden of proof is entirely on the shoulders of those who wish to justify artificial contraception. And surely that is reasonable?”

I still hold to this view, though I would now admit it is possible that St John Chrysostom's understanding of embryology (if it involved the then common belief that “quickening” or the beginning of life were post-conception) might mean that his phrases “prevents its formation” and “prevents their beginning to live” referred to early abortion rather than preventing conception as such. But it is only possible. The language could just as easily imply wholesale condemnation of contraception.

So, while much teaching against contraception (in the West especially) was based on false premises not universal in the Church, other, better premises do not seem to have led to any approval of contraception, but rather tend to have resulted in the contrary. Another Father, Lactantius, who also accepted the permissibility of intercourse for married couples when conception was impossible, that is, during pregnancy, still taught only abstinence was a permissible way to avoid having children.

As for the natural law justification for contraception by analogy with other bodily functions and their natural purposes, I think it fails to be conclusive for one main reason. The separation of, say, eating from its natural function of satisfying hunger and “fuelling” the body with necessary nutrients, whether for the sake of moderate culinary pleasure or sociable interaction, is justified because not only are all these permissible ends, motivations or intents, but they are so independently of one another. However, it could be reasonably argued that the unitive and procreative ends of married sexual intercourse are not intrinsically independent as far as healthy intention goes, since the married love (physically expressed in intercourse) that is truly unitive must involve a total mutual self-giving, not a positive holding back (of fecundity in this case), and must be open to new life and love, that is, not a deliberately “enclosed” act of union.

Nevertheless, I am aware that it is not clear how the sexual act within marriage in circumstances where the couple knows conception is impossible, which Tradition does not condemn, is that different inits “characteristics of intention”, so to speak. And one wonders whether NFP would continue to be accepted by the RCC if it became so efficient (perhaps through some technological advance) that a couple could be certain of non-conception. If not, it would seem that the important thing for morally acceptable sex was that there be some ignorance of consequences, as if knowledge was sin! If acceptance continued, it would be difficult to argue the couple remained open to new life when they could be morally certain conception was not presently possible.

Pastorally, therefore, I find myself in the position of believing I should recommend against artificial contraception. But I do not think I could exclude from the Sacrament those who used it “in good conscience”, so to speak, due to their own different conclusions or their trust in the authority of respected theologians who differ.

Bruce said...

I realize the Church is made up of imperfect, fallen men that do their best, but as a green Anglican (and Christian for that matter) this is distressing. Who should I believe? The Bishop, the Priest, or the Layman? ACC, ACA, APA, APCTK, UECNA, REC ??? MY Priest or Bishop just because he's MY Priest or Bishop? Can anyone's statements rise above "personal opinion" in our Churches? Where's the authority?

Maybe my mistake is in thinking we can know God's will perfectly. Should I just let ya'll help me form my conscience the best I can and hope that He has mercy on me because I did what I thought He willed?

We're here because of and in opposition to the patently abominable AC/TEC but we've got umpteen different "jurisdictions" covering the same geographic area and encompassing the same nationality.

I'm sorry. I hope I haven't been insolent.

poetreader said...

Thank you, Fr. Kirby, for a well thought and well-expressed analysis.

Bruce,
no, you aren't being insolent, and your comments deserve specific discussion.

I realize the Church is made up of imperfect, fallen men that do their best, but as a green Anglican (and Christian for that matter) this is distressing. Who should I believe? The Bishop, the Priest, or the Layman? ACC, ACA, APA, APCTK, UECNA, REC ??? MY Priest or Bishop just because he's MY Priest or Bishop?

Well, as a default position, yes, you should believe your priest or bishop (or at least submit to his teaching) because he IS your priest or bishop. If, in substantial matters you cannot do that. It may well be that one or the other of you has kapsed into heresy, a tragic situation that must be addressed.

Can anyone's statements rise above "personal opinion" in our Churches? Where's the authority?

The authority lies in the Word of God and in Holy Tradition, and the rightful minister of that authority in a Catholic church is the bishop and his priests. Personal opinion is fundamentally without authority of any kind. "ACC bishop" above, in expressing personal opinion has refrained from teaching such as being truth, and thus does speak without that authority, by choice I would assume. That is honorable, and I respect it, though I consider him to have erred in his conclusions.

Maybe my mistake is in thinking we can know God's will perfectly. Should I just let ya'll help me form my conscience the best I can and hope that He has mercy on me because I did what I thought He willed?

I've said approximately that, as has Fr. Kirby. We can express principles with great strength, but much of the time we would be presumptuous to make strong legal judgments of individuals. I think the Church's role is rather to educate consciences so that the faithful will learn to make the right choices.

We're here because of and in opposition to the patently abominable AC/TEC but we've got umpteen different "jurisdictions" covering the same geographic area and encompassing the same nationality.

and, I agree: that is so out-of-order as to be ridiculous and to approach the blasphemous. Among other things it allows such questions as yours to make a kind of sense by creating the very conflict of authorities that appears.

ed

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Clarification for Bruce: No one has the authority to teach his opinion instead of the word of God. Failing to find a clear commandment from scripture on any given issue, what Fr.Kirby has called the "default position of the Church" has to be our position, or it is we who carry the burden of proof.

This leaves us with the question anyway, and that question is whether or not the significant distinction is between the natural and the artificial. We have all agreed, at least in these comments so far, that NFP can be used for the purpose of avoiding the conception of children. In some marriages NFP has the potential to be so abused that it makes no difference that it is natural.

The first commandment God gave to the human race in scripture is "be fruitful and multiply..." The 128th Psalm says that the blessing on the man who fears God includes, "Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table." The 127th Psalm had already said, "Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward."

That Psalm was inspired, it seems, first of all to encourage the people to have children during the Captivity in Babylon. Modern people treat bad times as an excuse not to conceive, and what could be worse than Captivity under Nebuchadnezar? But, this is the weapon to fight back, and the means to restore the nation: "As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth."

Although these blessings have as well their spiritual meaning concerning evangelism, we need to keep the Biblical standard before our eyes as the Church has always understood it. Children are a blessing, and they are our future. No matter what Eschatology some Christians hold, or perhaps Eschatological Distopianism, it is lack of faith to despair over the future and treat children as a curse to be avoided.

In this hour, we must teach this as timeless and unchanging truth. And, as I said in the article above, what we are up against is a kind of radical Feminism that, in the name of Fairness, wants to destroy human nature and replace it with some new unnatural thing. They are about correcting God's "mistakes" in the design.

Pamela said...

Sorry, good correction....Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son...as is stated in the creed.

Forgive me for getting lost on exactly which denomination everyone here belongs to, but as a RC I have the complete assurance and confidence in my authority as being from the Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Teaching Authority of the Church (AKA Magesterium) to provide me with both. No Magisterium...No Bible. Therefore, on matters of faith and morals, I need only to turn to my Catechism to answer these difficult questions. And if my priest or bishop is faithful, he too will follow the same. But these days I have a responsiblity to know whether my shephards are faithful but learning the faith.

Forgive me for saying this, but I have always felt a since of pitty for those individuals who must struggle with the question "What is Truth?" I believe I am under the original authority, and there is a certain sense of peace that comes with that. The priest in Hong Kong is teaching the same things and even practicing his liturgy the same way. Universality is beautiful.

Humanae Vitae may not be Ex Cathedra, but I'd argue it didn't really tell us anything new...the message was the same, but perhaps in the context of the new culture. Casti Cannubi and the Letter to Midwives addresses this issue as well and maybe even the Didache?? (I'll have to check).

Finally, the Greek "Pharmakeia" is found in the original NT scripture 3 times when Paul warns against Sorcery and Potions. This is believed to apply to both birth control and abortion, because at the time Pharmakeia was used to stop pregnancy.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Forgive me for saying this, but I have always felt a since of pitty for those individuals who must struggle with the question "What is Truth?"

We too have that feeling of pity for those folks. They have not the confidence that comes from Scripture, Right Reason and Tradition. That's what we, Continuing Anglicans, call infallible.

Finally, the Greek "Pharmakeia" is found in the original NT scripture 3 times when Paul warns against Sorcery and Potions. This is believed to apply to both birth control and abortion, because at the time Pharmakeia was used to stop pregnancy.

Interesting application- I remember the 60s and 70s when the same was used to also warn about narcotics, etc.

Bruce said...

Thank you Mr. Pacht and Fr. Hart.

Mr. Pacht, should I be concerned if my priest says artificial contraception is ok? Granted, we're basically the only fertile ones in the Church. Let's just say I trust you fellas more to inform my conscience.

Father Hart, don't forget my favorite verses from the 127th Psalm, verses 4 and 5:

"As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth."
"Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate."

poetreader said...

Bruce,
When one's considered opinion as to what is permissible is more restrictive of one's own actions than what one is being taught, it is usually safer to obey one's conscience. When the reverse is true, then one's conscience may be inadequate and one should heed the advice.

You keyed in a memory from childhood. My Lutheran oastor of that far gone time (with whom I had many disagreements, but this one wise statement has stuck) one time said that the stork is our best evangelist. Not that we are only responsible to reach our children, but that this indeed is the first responsibility. If Christians practice birth-control and Muslims (for example) do not, well, then, guess who wins out in the long run. Just one more thought to go with all the rest.

ed

ACC Bishop said...

'The body is the animating force of the soul, and you can't separate yourself from your fertility.'

Not only can you, but many people do, all the time. Pamela presumably means 'should not', or even 'should not ever'. But that brings us back to the matter in question, and therefore this assertion is question-begging.

I understand Canon Kirby's point. However, I think the traditional position condemning contraception is questionable. Pre-modern biology tended towards the moral equation of abortion and contraception because of an assumption now known to be false: namely that the male seed was a complete human being which was implanted in the female. Canon Kirby himself has noted also the suggestion that some of the Fathers have a puritanical view of sexual pleasure which, one might add, is neither Catholic nor Anglican. (Yes, Sandra, we are to deny ourselves. But that which is good is good, even if weak and wicked folk need to deny themselves from time to time.) These two faulty ideas taken together probably explain the traditional view in question reflected by Paul VI. Take an analogous case. Apostolicae curae reproduces the conclusion concerning Anglican orders implied by most previous Roman practice. That practice, however, was itself largely built on uncritical acceptance of assumptions that we know to be false (e.g., fables concerning Archbishop Parker's consecration and an idea concerning necessary sacramental form proven to be impossible by subsequent liturgical discoveries). When one strips away the faulty traditional motives and tries to support the traditional conclusion with the arguments actually brought forth later, the conclusion proves to be rest on an inadequate base. In any case, earlier biological misunderstanding and an unbalanced puritanism together seem sufficient to question the practice built thereupon. And so it seemed to most of the Roman Catholic theologians and bishops consulted by the Pope on the matter before Humanae vitae. Also, the development of contraceptive pills (which, however, are questionable on other grounds) seemed to evade traditional objections to barrier methods of contraception. That is, the sex act is completed when the Pill is used: its possible fruitfulness is simply undermined. Paul VI went with the tradition, despite its faulty assumptions, as Leo XIII went with the tradition, despite similar problems. The same seems likely with Eastern Orthodox theologians, mutatis mutandis.

I would also note that Humanae vitae presents a natural law argument. To respond to that argument in its own terms is appropriate. I expand my argument in the previous paragraph because it also is legitimate to note other arguments, as Canon Kirby does.

If Pamela and Canon Kirby find NFP more acceptable because it is as least in principle open to conception, then they may also embrace so-called artificial means, for they too are imperfect. Pamela suggests that NFP is 99% effective (if used with accurate charts and temperature readings and other 'natural' aids): if so then condoms are in fact MORE open to conception.

I am writing privately because the ACC as such does not have an official position on this matter, and I do not want to clothe my views with an authority beyond whatever weight they deserve to carry. The doubtful layman should be glad. It is good when clergymen do not pontificate beyond their proper authority and when they note the limits of that authority.

It is certainly morally safe to use NFP, barring a medical condition that would make pregnancy life-threatening. In doubt, that practice is safe. I can also accept that NFP is more probably right, not least because it errs on the side of children and conception. But I would also argue that the natural/artificial distinction cannot be sustained and that so-called artificial FP methods are moral. That makes 'artificial contraception' probably moral, which means using it is morally licit. Roman Catholics, of course, are not so free, because their view of authority decides the matter. Or it would if Pamela's priest in Hong Kong pays attention to the Pope, as he probably doesn't, alas. ('Alas' because if you belong to a Church you should follow its rules with humble acceptance.)

Mr. Pacht is, of course, absolutely correct in recommending that the scrupulous man should follow his conscience even if it takes from him a morally licit liberty. It is never safe to disobey conscience.

Pamela said...

I said, 'The body is the animating force of the soul, and you can't separate yourself from your fertility.'

ACC bishop said, "Not only can you, but many people do, all the time."

No, I'm sorry, you can't. Assuming you aren't sterile, your fertility is a part of you. If someone attempts to separate you from that (like by way of contraception), then it is rejecting a part of the person...this is less than dignifying. It's using a person... exploitation.

Humanae Vitae itself even accurately prophesied the objectification of women.

And that is why I support NFP. NOT because it is 99% effective, but because it protects the dignities of the spouses. Even if a condom is more "open to life" by statistical standards, it's use is intrinsically closed to life.

NFP requires sacrifice and love to practice. If the reasons for using it are prudent, then the spouses' choice to abstain (either periodically or indefinitely) are displaying love and protecting the dignity of the spouses.

Here's a thought: Contraception is the counterfeit version of authentic love. And of course the devil is the master at counterfeiting holy realities. But NFP encourages the virtues of temperance and generosity among others... I doubt it's the work of the devil.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

No one has said that NFP is the work of the Devil. What I think we cannot deny is that it, like anything else, can be misused, in fact abused. It can be used by people who have the absolutely contraceptive mentality, as in planned barrenhood by selfish couples. I think that point is self-evident.

welshmann said...

To all:

Leaving aside for the moment any straightforward appeal to authority in support of the proposition that AFP constitutes contraception per se and is therefore forbidden, it seems to me that all the arguments advanced here in favor of either method can be mustered in favor of the other. Both methods can be used with contraceptive and therefore sinful intent. Both methods can be used with an intent that is ultimately open to conception, since users know that both methods allow for at least the possibility of conception. So I don't think that intent alone can be a sufficient basis to distinguish between the permissibility of AFP versus that of NFP, since both methods can be used with the intent to merely avoid conception, as opposed to prevent it, as long as the users are subjectively open to the possibility that conception may result.

I think the only meaningful way to distinguish one method from the other is to identify something intrinsic to the method that renders it per se sinful, apart from intent. That is, it must be shown that the intent to use AFP is per se sinful, not because of some other presumed sinful intent that accompanies the use of AFP, like selfishness. There was some discussion earlier to the effect that sex with condoms, for example, is inherently perverted, like many other kinds of acrobatic or exhotic sexual practices—specifics mercifully omitted. To me, that comes closer to a sound argument against AFP than the appeals to supposed selfishness, consequence-free promiscuity, and so on. Apart from a serious objection that AFP involves inherently perverted sexual acts, it is just not that difficult to imagine a devout, serious-minded Christian couple using non-abortofacient AFP in order to schedule the conception of children in a way that might actually be intended to promote overall fertility and openness to life.

It is pretty late in the discussion to bring this up, but I do have a question for everyone. Can AFP be used with an intent to avoid some other consequence of sex, like injury or death to the mother, without specific intent to prevent conception, even if contraception is an unintended but inevitable result? Is there a parallel here to medical non-intervention, as opposed to physician-assistend suicide? I gather that the catholic concensus permits non-intervention, as long as it is not accompanied by an intent to kill. Certainly, there is a potential there for slippery morals, and the same is certainly true of FP methods, whether natural or artificial. But if the catholic concensus permits non-intervention for the terminally ill, why not AFP to avoid the heath risks associated with conception, as long as AFP is not used with the intent to avoid conception itself?

welshmann

Shaughn said...

Throughout this conversation, I've been remembering this excerpt from Apb. Haverland's book, and I've been mildly surprised no one's brought it up.

From Anglican Catholic Faith and Practice, p. 128-129.

"Most Anglican theologians do not officially condemn contraception within the context of marriage, so long as the marriage is in general open to children. That is, the couple may decide for serious reasons that children are not opportune at a given moment or under particular circumstances. Contraception is licit in that case, so long as the marriage will be open to children. It is very important, however, that a contraceptive mentality does not develop: that children not be seen as an evil to be avoided rather than as a gift from God. Children may be inconvenient at a given time, but marriages in general must be open to them. When a couple are trying for a time to avoid conception, if conception should occur, they must accept the child they are sent by God."

Thoughts?

poetreader said...

Welshman,
you asked about NFP for other reasons, such as the safety of the mother, Actually, the thought has been broached. I observed above that there is no method of contraception other than outright sterilization that guarantees that pregnancy not occur. Therefore, with or without methods, 'artificial' or 'natural', any act of sex does risk the life of such a mother -- only the level of probability changes. If safety is the issue, only avstinence really answers the concern.

Shaughn
Though I tend to come to the place of saying that neither class of contraceptive actions is really licit, as I've said, I refuse to sit in judgment on individuals. That would put me in substantial, though far from complete, agreement with the Archbishop. However, the ending of the paragraph is terribly weak. The parents must not only accept, but welcome, love, and enjoy the blessed, though unasked, gift that God has given them. Any less than that would, as I see it, illustrate a defective and likely sinful intent, even if the use of means were to be licit. To attempt to prevent and yet to receive joyfully is a very difficult balancing act.

Thus what he says may have reason behind it, but to follow hius counsel without sin would seem to be very difficult and fraught with peril. I remain convinced that the traditional disapproval of contraception is the only wise advice we can give.

ed

Pamela said...

Shaughn,

Isn't the quote you cite simply saying that if you DO get pregnant, don't abort the pregnancy? (Of course that's not in dispute here). The quote seems to describe Responsible Parenthood which I and the RC are all for. Just not by using ABC.

Welshman,
I think the distinction to be made here, is whether one is called to "self control" or "indulgence" when choosing their method of FP. I only see the life of virtue stemming from self control. But what do you think?

Also, the Catholic Church says you must give basic necessities of life, even to the terminally ill (which means food, water, shelter). You don't have to give extraordinary means. On that same note, if one is sterile because of an outside reason (medication for illness, or perhaps hysterectomy for other reasons), there is no intention of contraception. However, many people are on the pill for superficial reasons. It would be more responsible to find an alternative (which there are many for many problems). If someone should still choose to be on the pill, that's where charting fertility is useful because you could still avoid conceiving a child that could be aborted via the Pill.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Pamela wrote:

I think the distinction to be made here, is whether one is called to "self control" or "indulgence" when choosing their method of FP. I only see the life of virtue stemming from self control. But what do you think?

In 1920 the bishops at the Lambeth Conference considered it unwise to let hard cases influence their teaching. By 1930 some of the bishops seemed willing to consider hard cases; for example: A Christian woman is married to an unbeliever, and for the sake of the children does not want to allow the marriage to break up. She is willing to practice a great deal of self-discipline, but her husband is not willing. And, other such things were considered, including matters of health and safety, etc. They, no doubt, thought it met a pastoral obligation to allow such a person to live in peace with a good conscience.

For this reason some of them voted for Resolution 15, whereas others who voted for it did not think it would be seen as justifying contraception at all, ever (see previous postings in the series). Nonetheless, all who voted for it were unable to see that their resolution would be misinterpreted to allow contraception whenever and wherever a couple wanted sex without children. We know the resolution contained these words: "The Conference records its strong condemnation of the use of any methods of conception control from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience." But, people did not read the resolution itself, only news articles and an editorial in the Washington Post.

Apparently, a couple may consider any selfish desire to be "a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence," interpreting their life situation to contain "a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood." People take such a decision based on subjective thinking and feeling, colored by impulses, rather than seeking out pastoral advice, which appears to have surprised those bishops.

Nonetheless, they were not thinking about a couple exercising self-discipline for spiritual reasons stemming from their own consciences, and mutual belief. They were thinking about those hard cases that, ten years earlier, they had regraded as unwise to address by such a publicly stated resolution.

Pamela said...

Good to know. So sad how people believe the media.

And actually there are just so many details that we could get into, and I'm afraid there's just not enough time and space.

But one vatican committee has also explored this issue. And concluded that if for example a wife didn't want to contracept, and the husband did, then she had an obligation not to be the one contracepting, and she needed to make it very clear that she was in disagreement and she shouldn't give up convincing him otherwise. (I'm paraphrasing of course...I could go look for the actual document if I must)

I've had to counsel women in this situation. But as you can see, the church didn't say "Ok...go ahead." It's saying "You can only control your own sins." Either way the situation must be heart wrenching and difficult to be in.

welshmann said...

Pamela:

I have probably given the impression that I am strongly in favor of AFP. Actually, I've found your comments and those of Poetreader in particular in favor of abstinance and NFP to be particularly persuasive, even for hard cases. I also realize that for you, the question is settled as a matter of authority. But again, leaving aside straightforward appeals to authority, I think the case falls short of demonstrating that AFP is per se sinful. So I think that you have made your affirmative case in favor of NFP; I do not think you have made your prohibitive case against AFP. That being said, as a practical matter, you have made your case, inasmuch as I could not justify using the morally inferior AFP method when NFP is available.

I was particularly impressed by the observation that NFP would actually require that couples talk. In addition, while I could still imagine a set of facts wherein AFP might be permissible, I imagine that it would actually be more emotionally and psychologically exhausting to continually guard against contraceptive intent than to simply abstain. I know from experience that fasting is easier than dieting!

welshmann

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

I believe this has been a genuinely worthwhile discussion, both in content and tone. So, it is with some reluctance that I must make a statement that many (perhaps all others) who have contributed will find dangerous and anti-traditional.

I am by no means persuaded that it is morally wrong for a woman for whom pregnancy would be fatal or probably fatal to seek and obtain a permanent sterilisation, and still pursue normal sexual relations within marriage. This may seem directly contrary to my Tradition-based position above, since the Fathers condemned deliberate sterilisation, but there is a key difference. Neither the Scriptures nor Fathers considered the case of a sterilisation where pregnancy would be life-threatening. Indeed, they could not do so since medicine was then unable to make such diagnoses before the event, so no sterilisation would have been done for this reason and the case did not come up then nor was it even considered by them. All the cases they considered assumed an intent to avoid children for the sake of avoiding children, not an intent to avoid the process of pregnancy because it would be lethal to the mother (and therefore probably to the child as well anyway).

Therefore, we must rely on general principles of natural law and biblical ethics, which, in a sense, reduce to common-sense and charity. Do common-sense and charity tell us that a woman who would die if she conceived is forced to forgo all chance of natural marriage for the sake of not interfering with a part of her body that is dysfunctional and for the sake of not preventing a child to be conceived who would not survive anyway? How does this make sense, exactly?

And, since no woman can absolutely guarantee that she will never be subject to the vile crime of rape and then conceive (no matter how celibate she is of her own free will), is not this in and of itself sufficient reason for such a woman to choose sterilisation to avoid death? Or are we saying that she should be willing to accept the fact that rape could also mean the added "bonus" of her demise, since she must under no circumstances interfere with her reproductive system unless its faultiness is not related to a post-conception problem. In other words, removing a cancerous uterus is licit, even, as I understand it, if it happens to contain a fetus, but performing a hysterectomy where no child is affected can be illicit because the reproductive system would only be lethal if the baby was present!

How does this make sense?

Having said all this, I am willing to submit to the consensual judgement of the Church, but by this I mean of course the whole Catholic Church, including the Eastern Orthodox jurisdictions.

poetreader said...

Thanks, Fr. Kirby, for a thoughtful comment. Here's where I sit on hard questions like that.

I do not believe that moral theology is the setting up of a detailed code of laws. In fact, I believe that is just what St. Paul consistently condemned in his epistles. We are in the business of preaching the Gospel of redemption. We teach the principles of morality, the outlines of the Law as God has revealed it, in order to instruct and form the Christian conscience that leads sinners to repentance.

I don't believe the Church is capable of solving all the "hard questions" such as the ones you raise, and what such questions do is to show the necessity of approaching moral decisions thoughtfully and prayerfully. If we are really serious in our self-examination, we will notice that even our best, most righteous, and most moral acts are tainted with sin, because we are the fallen persons we are.

Though there are useful distinctions between "mortal" and "venial" sins, the fact remains that sin is sin and thus separates from God. and that applies to all of us, and, effectively to all our acts.

I'm not going to judge individuals. I don't believe I'm qualified to do so. Though the Church does have the power of binding and loosing, nonetheless, in the ultimate sense, neither is the Church. We are not in the business of laying down laws, nor of enforcing them. Our message is "Repent, believe, accept, receive." It's not Sinai, but Calvary that defines us.

ed

Shaughn said...

I realize we're drawing to a close here, but while re-reading this discussion, an earlier comment caught my eye.

An ACC Bishop wrote:
Pre-modern biology tended towards the moral equation of abortion and contraception because of an assumption now known to be false: namely that the male seed was a complete human being which was implanted in the female.

In light of that new information, we're to rethink the tradition. When discussing conyraception, it seems to me, we're making a very practical attempt at using the balance of Scripture, Right Reason, and Tradition described in Hooker's Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book 5.

Which is to say, when we discover new objective facts, we are to re-think the tradition through the proper use of reason, in a way that doesn't contradict Scripture. Would you say, Fr. Hart, that in cases like these, Right Reason serves as an intermediary between Scripture and Tradition?

If I have it right, that puts the Anglican understanding of Scripture vs. Tradition vaguely between our Roman Catholic brethren and our more Protestant brethren. The former, so far as I understand it, argue that the two are equal and shan't ever contradict. The latter, so far as I'm aware, ignores tradition either wholly or whenever it's convenient. (Cf. Liberal Protestantism, new "prayerbooks," &c...)

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Would you say, Fr. Hart, that in cases like these, Right Reason serves as an intermediary between Scripture and Tradition?

No, I would not say that. My post several months ago, Right Reason, was an interpretation of how Hooker used the term. It really serves in cases where the Bible commands us what to do, and our wisdom must be employed in how to carry out the command. The most obvious example, "Do this in remembrance of me." And, even here, Hooker was extremely conservative, pointing to the Church with her Authority, also called Tradition (but not only Tradition, inasmuch as it involves canonical decisions and episcopal authority in the present also). His position places Right Reason alongside of Tradition in the sense of giving the weight of authority to antiquity, and to the wisdom of the Church in generations past, giving us laws and instructions that we swerve from at our peril.

Right Reason, as used by Hooker, would say that any new considerations have the burden of proof. It is a new idea that must be argued compellingly and proved beyond reasonable doubt, not the defense of Tradition. The new idea must be treated like the case for the prosecution, to continue my borrowing from legal terminology.

That is, Right Reason is very, very conservative.

Shaughn said...

Fr. Hart,

Thank you for the clarification!

nfpworks said...

Preach it Pam. This is a touchy subject, but one worth addressing time and again, and maybe from the pulpit, pastors???

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Fr. Kirby has brought up the kind of hard case that can come up at any time in the real world. Such cases do exist. I do not believe that the Tradition of the Church contradicts his judgment at all. The purpose of such a medical procedure,namely sterilization, in such a case is not a selfish desire to prevent motherhood, but a necessary means to protect an individual's own life. That is in no way inconsistent with the pro-life teaching of the Church in Tradition and Scripture.