Archive for the ‘Humanae Vitae’ Category

Humanae Vitae and John 14:26

Sunday, February 18th, 2018

Most people in the First World have at least a vague idea that the Catholic Church teaches that it is immoral for married couples to use unnatural methods of birth control, but very few understand WHY it teaches this way.  One fundamental reason for believing this teaching stems from John 14:26, the conviction that God Himself is the Author of the teaching against marital contraception.  (Next week’s blog will look at the nature of marriage, the marriage act, and the human person.)

In two consecutive sentences in Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI draws attention to the force of Sacred Tradition.  At the end of section 11, he teaches: “Nonetheless, the Church, calling men back to the observance of the norms of the natural law, as interpreted by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life.”  He starts the next sentence this way: “That teaching, often set forth by the Magisterium…” (emphasis added).

Section 11 references Casti Connubii (Concerning Chaste Marriage) issued by Pope Pius XI, December 31, 1930.  In this encyclical, Pius XI responded to the bishops of the Church of England who had just taken the horrific step of being the first organized Christian body to formally accept marital contraception.  Here’s how Pius XI stated it: “Since, therefore, openly departing from the uninterrupted Christian tradition some recently have judged it possible solemnly to declare another doctrine regarding this question…” (emphasis added).  Then he restated the traditional Christian teaching that marital contraception is the grave matter of mortal sin.

What is behind these references to a teaching against contraception that had previously been universal among all the Christian churches?  Two things: history and a promise.

This historical fact is that from the time of the Apostles to August 7, 1930, Christianity was united in its teaching against contraception.  Birth control was not a Catholic-Protestant issue at the time of the Reformation.  In fact, Martin Luther called contraception a form of sodomy, and John Calvin called it a form of homicide.  The American anti-contraception laws of the 19th century were passed by largely Protestant legislatures for a mostly Protestant America.

In the early 20th Century, the Church of England was subject to great pressure.  In the face of this pressure, the Anglican bishops courageously reaffirmed the Traditional teaching in 1908 and again in 1920.  But in 1930, they capitulated.

At the Last Supper, Jesus made a promise to the Twelve Apostles and to their successors through the ages: “These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you.  But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).

The Catholic Church believes that God keeps his promises.  It is this bedrock belief that is the basis for our belief that the clarifications of the Faith that have been issued by the Council of Nicea and subsequent ecumenical councils are true.  The same thing is true regarding the Church’s teaching against unnatural forms of birth control, as the Anglicans correctly called them.  The issue was raised many times throughout Christian history, but the answer was always the same: a universal negative to contraceptive behaviors.  When there was a break among Christians in 1930, the Catholic Church immediately reaffirmed the teaching.  When the Pill and loose speculation led to all sorts of confusion in the Sixties, the Church once again reaffirmed the teaching through Pope Paul VI.  When the confusion worsened due to unprecedented dissent, God raised up John Paul II to give new and more profound insights into the nature of marriage and the marriage act in what is called his “Theology of the Body.”  John Paul II also gave us repeated affirmations of the teaching.  One of his strongest statements was to a group of priests in Rome: “In a word, contraception contradicts the truth of conjugal love.  Contraception is to be judged objectively so profoundly unlawful as never to be, for any reason, justified.  To think or to say the contrary is equal to maintaining that in human life situations may arise in which it is lawful not to recognize God as God” (17 Sept 1983).

The constant teaching of the Church throughout the centuries and in response to different questions in different times is due to the continued guidance of the Holy Spirit.  This is the guidance that Jesus promised at the Last Supper.  This is the work of the Spirit, keeping alive the divine truth about human love.  
John F. Kippley
Sex and the Marriage Covenant

Humanae Vitae: The Argument from Sociology

Sunday, February 4th, 2018

The neo-Malthusian Paul Ehrlich predicted in the late Sixties’ book, The Population Bomb, that by this time much of the world would be decimated by famine.  In fact, he set some doomsday timetables well within the 20th century.  When his predictions repeatedly proved to be wrong, he refused to admit it; he just postponed his doomsday and sold more books.  However, now that informed people recognize that the real world population “problem” is the depopulation of First World countries, they know that doomsday scenarios are simply propaganda to decriminalize anti-people campaigns of the First World against developing countries.  However, there are still many uninformed people, some quite pushy, and what follows may help you when you encounter them.

The sociological argument or rationalization runs something like this.  1. Today there are great sociological difficulties in our world.  2) The economy of the rich nations seems geared for a family of not over three children.  The economy of poor nations leads many to starvation.  3) Man has a duty to better his whole world.  He has created part of the problem by reducing the natural death rate.  4) He has the physical power to limit population through contraception.  5) Therefore it is permissible, perhaps even required, to practice contraception in the present sociological circumstances.

The argument is attractive to those who have been brainwashed by a neo-Malthusian media.  Let us suppose that every statement up to the “Therefore” is true, even though they aren’t.  The problem is that the conclusion is by no means contained in the preceding statements.  The argument assumes what needs to be proved, i.e., it assumes that contraception is a morally permissible way of expressing married love.  To prove to yourself the error of the “therefore” statement, simply substitute other means of population control in statement 4: “He has the physical power to limit population through ________________.”  Fill in abortion, genocide, infanticide, the killing of the incurably sick, the killing of the old, the sterilization of non-contracepting parents, etc.—anything you regard as abhorrent.  Such substitution enables you to see very clearly that what remains to be proved is that any one of these is morally acceptable.  That is, the existence of external pressures is no sure sign at all that either contraception or any other method of population control is morally permissible.

Those who parrot this sort of argument typically point to the change from a farm economy to huge cities.  They point out that having a number of children is not the economic asset in the city that it was on the farm.  That’s true in the short run; we don’t know about the long run even in First World countries with advanced social security systems.  If the systems go bankrupt, it may once again be the case that children are the greatest economic assets of aged parents.  And, while it is true that there has been a mass migration from the farm to the city in North America, it is also true that cities aren’t exactly new.  I suspect that even in the days of ancient Greece and Rome a large family was much more of an asset on the farm than in the city.

The point is this: When an argument describes only a problem and proposes a solution, such an argument says nothing at all about the moral worth of the solution.  The end does not justify the means.  An alleged population problem does not justify any particular means offered as a solution.
John F. Kippley
Sex and the Marriage Covenant

Humanae Vitae: The Argument from Science

Sunday, January 28th, 2018

Previous articles have illustrated how some of those who dissent from the teaching of Humanae Vitae have used arguments that would get them laughed out of town if they used them with any subject other than birth control.  This article illustrates another silly argument and then shows that what the Church allows (natural family planning) is truly in accord with the best of science and the scientific method.  The next three paragraphs are quoted almost verbatim from my book, Sex and the Marriage Covenant, pp. 286-287, (Ignatius 2005).

The argument is typically phrased along these lines.  “Until recently man has not known about efficient means of contraception.  New medical knowledge has given us extremely efficient ways of contraception, especially the Pill.  God gave man a brain to use it to control nature.  Therefore God permits contraception, and intelligent man should use the means most efficient for him.”

The worth of the argument is easily seen by substituting another value.  “Until recently man has not known about efficient means of mass killing.  New scientific knowledge has given us extremely efficient ways of mass killing, especially the hydrogen bomb.  God gave man a brain to use it to control nature.  Therefore God permits mass killing and intelligent man should use the means most efficient for him—in this case the H-bomb.”

No one, I hope would subscribe to the “logic” of the second argument.  Everybody, I hope, would say that the argument says nothing about the morality of mass killing and that use of our new scientific knowledge has to be evaluated according to moral principles.  The fact that we know how to do something, even if it has taken the work of geniuses to discover it, does not mean that it is good to do it.  And that is equally true about contraception, the use of the Pill or any other device.  Knowledge of newer and more efficient means of contraception, even though the work of brilliant scientists, is of itself no indication that it is good to practice contraception, either in the older forms such as the Onan’s spilling of the seed (Gn 38:6-10) or the newer forms such as the Pill.  The argument from science is simply no argument.

On the other hand, both forms of natural family planning are in full accord with good science.  Ecological breastfeeding encourages close mother-baby interaction.  It is scientifically beyond question that mother’s milk is the best physical nutrition for infants and that full-time loving care from their mothers is the best emotional nutrition for infants and young children.  It is scientifically well established that ecological breastfeeding spaces babies, on the average, about two years apart.  Systematic natural family planning makes use of our knowledge about human fertility, and the daily observation of the signs of fertility is a classic example of the scientific method—the systematic observation and recording of recurring events.

Please do what you can to let people know about Natural Family Planning so they will have what they need if and when they need it.
John F. Kippley
Sex and the Marriage Covenant