Archive for February, 2018

Humanae Vitae and Three Natures

Sunday, February 25th, 2018

In last month’s column we looked at the teaching of Humanae Vitae from the perspective of the authority of the Church to teach about human love. Specifically, we saw that Jesus at the Last Supper promised that the Holy Spirit would continue to guide the Apostles and their successors in teaching the truth including the truth about human love (Jn 14:26).  In brief, the teaching authority of the Church is the continuing authority of Jesus who has positively willed to keep his teaching alive and up-to-date through his body, the Church.

This blog will look at the teaching of Humanae Vitae from the perspective of three natures—human nature, the nature of marriage, and the nature of the marriage act.  If the authority of the teaching Church can be called an outside reason for believing the teaching affirmed by Humanae Vitae, the argument from these natures can be called an inner reason.

Human nature.  It is the very nature of being human to be honest.  We know that the Eighth Commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Ex 20:16) resonates within us.  The words of Polonius to Laertes ring true: “To thy own self be true; then thou cannot be false to any man.”  We know that we are called to be true to ourselves, to God and to our neighbor.  We know how much harm has been done by the great dishonesty of pretended love.  We may not like a lot of our weaknesses, but we definitely don’t want others to think of us as dishonest.

The nature of marriage.    What makes a marriage?  Probably the easiest way to see this is to reflect on what our reaction would be if we heard these words from the couple before the minister:  “We take each other for better but definitely not for worse, in good times but not in bad, in good health but we want to be free if one of us should ever get really sick, and we do all of this for as long as everything is working out just fine.”

None of us would need a degree in canon law or even a brief marriage course to know that whatever was happening up there, it was not marriage.  It would be completely invalid.  Legalized prostitution would be the more correct term.  What makes a wedding ceremony into a marriage is the unreserved commitment to take each other for better AND for worse—for life.  It’s a very big commitment, one that the Lord Jesus raised to the level of a sacrament to give us the graces we need to live it.

The nature of the marriage act.  The marriage act really ought to be a marriage act.  That is, sexual intercourse is intended by God to be at least implicitly a renewal of the marriage covenant.  I’ve been saying that since 1967, but my theological authority and a dollar won’t get you even a cup of coffee.  So it was personally encouraging for me to read in Letter to Families from Pope John Paul II (2/2/94) as follows: “In the conjugal act, husband and wife are called to confirm in a responsible way the mutual gift of self which they have made to each other in the marriage covenant” (n.12,12, emphasis in original).

What does that say about contraceptive behaviors?  Actions speak louder than words, and the body language of contraception speaks clearly: “We take each other for better but definitely NOT for the imagined worse of possible pregnancy.”  The body language of contraception makes it clear that marital contraception is NOT a renewal of the marriage covenant into which the spouses freely entered.  In fact, it contradicts the unreserved gift of self that made their wedding promises a true marriage.  Marital contraception is therefore invalid as a marriage act.  That helps to explain why Paul VI called it “intrinsically dishonest” in Humanae Vitae (n.14).

Pope John Paul II put it this way in his Letter to Families: “The logic of the total gift of self to the other involves a potential openness to procreation: in this way the marriage is called to even greater fulfillment as a family.”

We are called to be honest in all of our dealings with others, and this includes the marriage relationship including sexuality.  Marital contraception is dishonest as a marriage act; it runs contrary to the nature of marriage itself and to our basic human call to be true to the human nature that God has given us.
John F. Kippley
Sex and the Marriage Covenant

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

Chaste Natural Family Planning leads to a Culture of Life

Sunday, February 11th, 2018

1.There will be no freedom from the culture of death and fear without building a culture of life.

  1. There will be no culture of life without a stop to legalized abortion.
  2. There will be no stopping abortion without a widespread acceptance of chastity. 
  3. There will be no widespread acceptance of chastity outside of marriage without a widespread acceptance of chastity within marriage.
  4. There will be no acceptance of marital chastity without the rejection of unnatural forms of birth control, many of which can also cause early abortions.
  5. There will be no widespread rejection of unnatural forms of birth control without the widespread knowledge and practice of natural family planning.
  6. There will probably be very limited acceptance of chaste natural family planning unless it is taught in the context of authentic Christian discipleship.
  7. Widespread acceptance of chaste NFP will happen only when the clergy require couples to learn NFP—including ecological breastfeeding and the covenant meaning of the marriage act—as a normal part of preparation for Christian marriage.

Now THAT is something truly worth praying for, and Lent is a special time for prayer.
John F. Kippley