Archive for January, 2018

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

Humanae Vitae: The Argument from Totality

Sunday, January 21st, 2018

In the mid-Sixties, a pro-contraception argument that appealed to some ivory-tower theorists was called the Argument from the Totality of the Marriage.  In fact, its theological proponents raised this as a principal argument in a Note attached to the report of the Papal Birth Control Commission as follows:  “Not every act which proceeds from man is a complete human act.  The subject of morality for St. Thomas is always the human act whose master is man (determined from a knowledge of the object or end).  But this human act which has one moral specification can be composed of several particular acts if these partial acts do not have some object in itself already morally specified.  And this is the case for matrimonial acts which are composed of several fertile and infertile acts; they constitute one totality because they are referred to one deliberate choice” (emphasis added).
(The wording about the human act means this: Eating a meal is a human act, but each time you automatically pick up a fork during that meal would be only a partial human act.)

Pope Paul specifically rejected this argument in the encyclical, Humanae Vitae.  After a difficult, 83-word sentence, he concluded:  “Consequently it is an error to think that a conjugal act which is deliberately made infecund and so is intrinsically dishonest could be made honest and right by the ensemble of a fecund conjugal life.” (n. 14)

A more blunt reply would have been this: Some people are asking us to believe them that the marriage act is not a complete human act.  They are asking us to believe that each and every marriage act does not have a divinely given purpose.  But they err.  In each marriage act, the married couple are called to reaffirm their original marriage covenant.  Just as each act of receiving Holy Communion is a complete human act, so each marital communion is a complete human act.

The value of an argument is frequently illustrated by substituting a different act while using the same logic.  In this case, use adultery.  The argument would then read that the combination of faithful and adulterous acts make up one totality, and the adulterous acts subsume their morality by the overall fidelity of the spouses.  This line of rationalization would question why adultery is wrong.  And indeed, one of the leaders of dissent later went on record as saying that the biblical norms were simply out of date.

The proponents of this argument also conveniently ignore the world’s interest and even obsession with sex—and with rationalizing every departure from the God-given norms.  This illustrates that it is written large in the heart of man that God has a plan for human sexuality.  Every effort to rationalize perversions of his plan highlights the underlying reality that sex ought to be exclusively a marriage act and that every marriage act has a divinely given purpose to renew their marriage covenant for better and for worse.  And “worse” includes the “imagined worse” of possible pregnancy.

It is hard to believe that such rationalization could actually be taken seriously, but it illustrates how badly the birth control controversy has affected the thinking of otherwise rational people.
John F. Kippley
Sex and the Marriage Covenant

Humanae Vitae, Father Maurizio Chiodi, and Natural Family Planning

Friday, January 12th, 2018

Almost a month after Fr. Maurizio Chiodi made a controversial presentation at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome on December 14, reports reached the internet news media.  As I read the report on LifeSiteNews, I could not help but thinking, “It’s been 52 years but some things are unfortunately the same.”  In 1966, Father Jozef Fuchs, S.J. was a theologian at the Gregorian and was also a member of the papal birth control commission.  In the summer of 1966 I participated in a moral theology course taught by Father Fuchs at the University of San Francisco.  I asked a lot of questions in those classes attended mostly by clergy and religious.  At least one priest appreciated my efforts.  “John, you ask good questions.  Keep it up.”  Apparently Father Fuchs didn’t think so; the next summer he taught the same course but attendance was limited—no laity permitted.

Later that year Fr. Fuchs submitted the majority report which advocated that the Church should accept marital contraception.  Fortunately, they spelled out their reasons, and it was clear that the arguments used for the acceptance for marital contraception cannot say NO to sodomy whether within heterosexual marriage or by same-sex persons.  Five years later, Theological Studies, a generally liberal journal, published my article, “Continued Dissent: Is It Responsible Loyalty?” (March 1971) in which I showed that the decision-making principles of archdissenter Fr. Charles Curran could not say NO even to spouse-swapping.  No one accused me of creating a straw man.  The liberals have long known what is entailed in their acceptance of marital contraception.

Fr. Chiodi, who teaches moral theology at the Northern University in Milan, tries to make two points.  First, he asserts that there are “circumstances—I refer to Amoris Laetitia, Chapter 8—that precisely for the sake of responsibility, require contraception.”  Amazing.  I thought he would go on to make a sympathy-earning case for a couple with a large family and for whom their particular method of systematic NFP was not “working,” or a couple who had an alleged irrepressible sexual attraction to each other during the fertile time, etc. etc.  But no.  Instead he posits a situation in which “responsibility calls the couple and the family to other forms of welcome and hospitality.”

This is an assertion, not an argument.  The situation he suggests is of the kind described in Humanae Vitae —a couple having “just reasons” for seeking to avoid pregnancy.  I grant there can be situations in which a couple decide that God is not calling them to have more children, but that in no way justifies falsifying the marriage act.  Instead, it provides a reason to practice fertility awareness and systematic natural family planning.  Unfortunately, Fr. Chiodi’s assertions sound like Fr. Jozef Fuchs revisited.

The second major point of his lecture seems to be made in this statement.  “My thought is to take up the anthropological meaning of the norm of Humanae Vitae…  it’s not a matter of abolishing the norm, but of demonstrating its meaning and truth.”  In the LifeSite commentary, Fr. Chiodi sees an anthropology of marriage built on “four fundamental aspects”: the relationship between sexuality and sexual difference; the relationship between human sexuality and the spousal covenant; the relationship between marital communion and generation; and the meaning of responsibility in generation.  In the LifeSiteNews  opinion, that probably means responsible parenthood.

In my opinion, the key item among the four is the second one—the relationship between human sexuality and the spousal covenant.  Here I want to interpret Fr. Chiodi as calling for more emphasis on the meaning of sexual intercourse.  I submit that there is covenantal meaning that God has built into human sexual intercourse.  What makes the human sexual act different from the sexual intercourse of high primates?  The distinctly human difference is that while animals can “have sex,” only human persons can engage in an act that is intended by Almighty God to be a renewal of the faith and love and commitment of their marriage covenant—and which the couple can consciously intend to be such a renewal.

This is illustrated in Sacred Scripture with its condemnation of a number of specific kinds of human sexual acts.  In alphabetical order, adultery, bestiality, contraception, fornication, incest, masturbation, prostitution, rape and sodomy are all condemned.  (I consider the Onan account to condemn both contraception and masturbation.)  Each of these has its specific evil or form of injustice.  But, what is most significant is what they all have in common—none of them is a true marriage act.  About each one of these behaviors, consequentialist questions have been raised.  For example, what’s wrong with adultery or any of the other forms of biblically condemned behaviors if both parties are okay with it and use efficient contraception when doing sex with heterosexual partners?  It is that sort of consequentialist thinking that has led to the current degraded societal sexual morality which has only two criteria—legal age and mutual acceptability.

I submit that the biblical condemnations plus almost 2000 years of Catholic teaching on these matters leads to the conclusion that in God’s plan, sexual intercourse is intended to be, at least implicitly, a renewal of the marriage covenant.  That means two things:  Sexual intercourse ought to be exclusively a marriage act.  Then, within marriage, the marriage act ought to be a true marriage act, one that affirms the love and faith and commitment of their marriage covenant, for better and for worse—including the imagined worse of possible pregnancy.  The body language of the contracepted marriage act says, however, “I take you for better but positively NOT for the imagined worse of possible pregnancy.”  It pretends to be what it is not.  It is intrinsically dishonest.

Of great interest to those of us who teach natural family planning is Father Chiodi’s reference to contraception as technology.  Contraceptive behaviors have been with the human race since the beginning of recorded history with some records going back to 3000 BC.  Condoms and withdrawal have been used for centuries.  The development of latex condoms in the 19th century might be considered a form of “technology,” but I suspect that most moderns would think only of the modern developments as “technology.”

Modern technology would perhaps include tubal ligation and vasectomy, but more commonly it would refer to hormonal forms of birth control.  Here I do not use the word “contraception” because the hormonal methods of birth control are not just contraceptive but also have the abortifacient potential of denying implantation of the newly conceived baby.  The hormonal methods are also the ones that can cause blood clots and breast cancer and a whole list of other health problems.

If an atheist would talk about technological contraception without adequately treating of the serious problems with those technologies, that would be unethical.

If a Catholic moral theologian talks about technological contraception without adequately treating of the serious health problems with those technologies, that would also be unethical.  But if he should also say it might be “required” in some cases, that is so strange that it should be unthinkable.  The most charitable interpretation I can place on this is that such “moral theology” is missing one of the key elements of any bio-theology—the scientific facts.

Furthermore, anyone doing any form of moral theology dealing with human sexuality should be required to read Mary Eberstadt’s sociological gem, Adam and Eve after the Pill (Ignatius, 2012).  It is hard to understand how any informed moral theologian, having become aware of the negative sociological effects from the societal acceptance of contraception, could write as Father Chiodi has done.

John F. Kippley
January 11, 2018