Archive for July, 2018

Sex and the Marriage Covenant

Sunday, July 29th, 2018

Sex and the Marriage Covenant
Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly, Fall 2006
Reviewed by Thomas P. Scheck, Ave Maria University

John Kippley has been courageously defending traditional Christian sexual ethics in a Roman Catholic context since 1963. In this second edition of his book, Kippley argues that since self-giving is the essence of marital love, contraception contradicts the very essence of the marriage covenant. What too many people are unaware of is the reality set forth in the opening statement of the book: “Up until 1930, Christian churches had been unanimous in teaching that it was immoral to use unnatural methods of birth control” (vii). The Church of England was the first to break with traditional teaching, and was followed by all Protestant denominations. The Catholic Church has never caved in to this departure from traditional sexual morality. After the Anglican innovation, Pope Pius XI reaffirmed the previously universal teaching against contraception in his encyclical Casti Connubii (1930). Paul VI did the same in Humanae Vitae (1968), and John Paul II in his persistent teaching. These popes were simply affirming what all Christian churches had previously believed and defended up to 1930: namely, that it goes against natural law to use contraceptive drugs, procedures and behaviors.

The present book is divided into five parts. In Part One: The Covenant Proposal, the author discusses the theological meaning of covenant and its implications for human sexuality. Here Kippley articulates and explains his thesis, that God intends sexual intercourse to be at least implicitly a renewal of the marriage covenant. From this it follows that the marriage covenant provides the criterion to evaluate the morality of every sexual act. Kippley’s theological contribution here is creative, but not innovative; he is thought provoking, but not abrupt. However, in my view, Kippley seriously understates his own qualifications and stature as a Catholic theologian. No one who reads Kippley’s critique of the weak and intellectually bankrupt arguments used by dissenting theologians to defend contraception will gain any respect for their learning, in spite of their doctoral degrees. It is simply impossible for a reader of this book to conclude that Kippley is less academically qualified than revisionist scholars, still living in 1968, who want us to believe that the Popes of the Catholic Church have been theological dilettantes. Part Two: Conscience deals with fundamental aspects of forming a correct conscience and the question of infallibility. Part Three: Pastoral Considerations covers Natural Family Planning, practical pastoral policies, hard cases, and sterilization. Part Four: The Context of the Controversy discusses the history of birth control controversies in the 20th century and a critique of the arguments for contraception. Finally, Part Five: The Historical-Traditional Teaching lays out the biblical foundations and ecclesiastical documentation for Catholic sexual ethics. In brief, there is very little in this book that is not intensely relevant to anyone interested in marriage, sexuality and family issues.

My favorite anecdote in the book occurred in Kippley’s discussion of Genesis 38.10 and the account of Onan. The scriptural text says that Onan practiced withdrawal, spilling his seed on the ground, in order to prevent pregnancy from occurring. The Bible then states: “What he did was evil in the sight of the Lord, and [the Lord] slew him” (Gn 38.10). Until very recently in the history of biblical exegesis, an anti-contraceptive interpretation of this passage was universal. Both Catholic exegetes as well as the Protestant reformers, Luther and Calvin made this very clear. Luther went so far as to say that Onanism (contraceptive behavior) was “worse than Sodomy.” But in recent times, a “Levirate-only” interpretation of this passage has emerged, i.e. the view that Onan’s only sin was his failure to comply with his duty to raise up offspring for his deceased brother. Kippley endeavored to determine when the change in interpretation occurred. He reports that he consulted by phone a modern Scripture scholar and asked him when the anti-contraceptive interpretation was dropped from the discussion of Onan. The nameless scholar did not answer the question, but simply pontificated: “We just don’t do it that way anymore.” Kippley comments: “It would be hard to imagine a reply that gave more evidence that the Levirate-only interpretation is without merit, an interpretation of expediency” (p. 331).

To conclude this brief review, I will say that this book is exceptionally clearly written and easy to read. It is filled with information and documentation. This book should be required reading for Catholic (and Protestant) couples preparing for marriage. Indeed, I wish I had read this book fifteen years ago in my own pre-marital preparation. The back cover of Kippley’s book carries an endorsement by William E. May, one of the Catholic Church’s leading moral theologians, who calls it a “must read for anyone concerned with marriage, sexuality and the family.” It is also worth noting that Scott Hahn reports that his reading of the first edition of this book played a big role in his conversion to the Catholic position on the issue of contraception. That in itself is a significant legacy for Kippley’s book [Sex and the Marriage Covenant] and a strong recommendation.

Natural Family Planning, St. John Paul II and Humanae Vitae: Summary

Saturday, July 28th, 2018

Humanae Vitae and Pope John Paul II: 1988  Summary

Excerpts from J.F.Kippley, Sex and the Marriage Covenant: A Basis for Morality (Ignatius, 2005, Chapter 7.  References are in the endnotes of Chapter 7.)

This is the last of our blogs for NFP Awareness Week in 2018.  It starts with the last presentation of St. John Paul II in 1988; part of this was in the last blog.

12 November 1988.  Theologians are accustomed to terminology about a hierarchy of truths, for example, that belief in the Blessed Trinity is more of a central core teaching of the Church than, say, its teaching about Purgatory. The theologians at this conference would be well acquainted with the efforts of various dissenters to treat the teaching of Humanae Vitae as peripheral­—way, way down on the hierarchy of truths, having nothing to do with God Himself and not too relevant to the contemporary concern for enhancing the dignity of man. In that light, the following text is of great significance as the Pope teaches that it is not a peripheral teaching but involves a central teaching of Catholic faith.
“Here a central point of Christian doctrine concerning God and man is involved. If one looks closely at what is being questioned by rejecting that teaching, one sees that it is the very idea of the Holiness of God. In predestining us to be holy and immaculate in his sight, he created us “in Christ Jesus for good works . . . that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10). Those moral norms are simply the demand—from which no historical circumstance can dispense—of the Holiness of God which is shared in the concrete, no longer in the abstract, with the individual human person.
Furthermore, such negation renders the Cross of Christ meaningless (cf. 1 Cor 1:17). By becoming incarnate, the Word entered fully into our daily existence which consists of concrete human acts. By dying for our sins, he re-created us in the original holiness which must be expressed in our daily activity in the world.
Moreover, such negation implies, as a logical consequence, that there is no truth about man which is outside the course of historical evolution. To render void the Mystery of God results, as always, in rendering void the mystery of man, and the non-recognition of God’s rights results, as always, in the negation of man’s dignity (n.5).”54

In his manner of speaking and in his repetition, John Paul II has left no room for doubt that the doctrine of marital non-contraception reaffirmed by Casti Connubii, Humanae Vitae, and Familiaris Consortio must be believed and put into practice. He has taught:

― that to hold out for exceptions as if God’s grace were not sufficient is a form of atheism (17 September 1983);

― that denying the doctrine of marital non-contraception is “equivalent to denying the Catholic concept of revelation” (10 April 1986);

― that it is a teaching whose truth is beyond discussion (5 June 1987);

― that it is a “teaching which belongs to the permanent patrimony of the Church’s moral doctrine” and “a truth which cannot be questioned” (14 March 1988);

― that it is a teaching which is intrinsic to our human nature and that calling it into question “is equivalent to refusing God himself the obedience of our intelligence” (12 November 1988);

― and finally that “what is being questioned by rejecting that teaching . . . is the very idea of the holiness of God” (12 November 1988).

During the 1990s, John Paul continued to speak on the subject of birth regulation, including breastfeeding. He also issued two major teaching documents relevant to the birth control issue, Veritatis Splendor in 1993 and Evangelium Vitae in 1995. Between these he issued Letter to Families from Pope John Paul II in 1994. All of these are referenced in other chapters, and you will find significant quotations from these and other documents in Chapter 18.

No Pope in the history of the Church has taught more clearly and consistently, in season and out of season, about marital love and sexuality and the immorality of unnatural methods of birth control than Pope John Paul II. “His mind and will in the matter” are obvious. He has used a formal teaching document, Familiaris Consortio, has repeated the teaching both in Rome and in his world travels, and has used clear and very strong language. He has amply fulfilled all the requirements of Vatican II (Lumen Gentium, 25) for the clear and authoritative teaching by which the believing Catholic must form his or her conscience.

There are two conclusions.
1. The person who is Catholic in any meaningful sense of that word has to recognize that God is keeping alive—even today—the unchanging truths about human love, that God is teaching these truths through the prophetic office of Peter, an office personally established by Christ. The teaching is unchanging because it is rooted in our human nature. The only thing that has changed is this: through modern natural family planning, this teaching is incomparably easier to follow than it was in 1930 or at any previous time. The first conclusion is that Catholics must give religious assent to the teaching against marital contraception and act accordingly.

2. The second conclusion is that non-Catholic Christians as well as Catholics must recognize the truth of the pre-1930 universal teaching against marital contraception. They must recognize that this is no more of a Catholic-Protestant issue than abortion. Just as in many cases they must reject their own Church’s permissive stance towards abortion, so also they must reject a permissive stance towards contraception. Everyone is called to live according to the truth.

My thanks to Ignatius Press for making these teachings, and much more, available in Sex and the Marriage Covenant: A Basis for MoralityI am not aware of any other easily available source of this documentation. –John F. Kippley.





Natural Family Planning, St. John Paul II and Humanae Vitae

Friday, July 27th, 2018

Pope John Paul II and Humanae Vitae, 1987-1988

Excerpts from J.F.Kippley, Sex and the Marriage Covenant: A Basis for Morality (Ignatius, 2005, Chapter 7.  References are in the endnotes of Chapter 7.)

5 June 1987: The Pope addressed the participants in a study conference on responsible procreation and made several very strong statements about the certainty and truth of the teaching reaffirmed by Humanae Vitae including this:  “The Church’s teaching on contraception does not belong to the category of matter open to free discussion among theologians. Teaching the contrary amounts to leading the moral consciences of spouses into error.31
                …A grave responsibility derives from this: those who place themselves in open conflict with the law of God, authentically taught by the Church, guide spouses along a false path. The Church’s teaching on contraception does not belong to the category of matter open to free discussion among theologians. Teaching the contrary amounts to leading the moral consciences of spouses into error.”46 (Boldface emphasis added.)

16 September 1987: While making a tour of the United States, John Paul II addressed the bishops of the United States in Los Angeles. Referring to reports that large numbers of Catholics do not adhere to the sexuality teaching of the Church and yet appear to receive the sacraments, the Pope said,  “It is sometimes claimed that dissent from the Magisterium is totally compatible with being a “good Catholic” and poses no obstacle to the reception of the sacraments. This is a grave error that challenges the teaching office of the Bishops of the United States and elsewhere.”32

14 March 1988: To participants in the Fourth International Conference for the Family of Europe and Africa, the Holy Father repeated the previous teaching. First, he noted that the “doctrine expounded in the encyclical Humanae Vitae thus constitutes the necessary defense of the dignity and truth of conjugal love.” Second, he said that “It is first of all married couples themselves who are responsible for their conjugal love, in the sense that they are called to live it in its entire truth.” Third, he continued, the Church helps them: “The Church assists them in this task, enlightening their consciences and assuring them, with the sacraments, of the strength necessary for the will to choose good and avoid evil.”

However, he continued, “there are problems.  Still, I cannot pass over in silence the fact that many today do not aid married couples in this grave responsibility of theirs, but rather place significant obstacles in their path . . .  This can also come about, with truly grave and destructive consequences, when the doctrine taught by the Encyclical is called into question, as has sometimes happened, even on the part of some theologians and pastors of souls. This attitude, in fact, can instill doubt with regard to a teaching which for the Church is certain; in this way it clouds the perception of a truth which cannot be questioned. This is not a sign of ‘pastoral understanding,’ but of misunderstanding the true good of persons. Truth cannot be measured by majority opinion.”33

On Monday, 24 October 1988, the Holy Father addressed the bishops from the U. S. ecclesiastical provinces of Cincinnati and Detroit.  “As we commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the “prophetic” Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Paul VI, we see ever more clearly today how relevant and positive it is.  In a world that often reduces sex to the pursuit of pleasure, and in some cases to domination, the Church has a special mission to place sex in the context of conjugal love and of generous and responsible openness to parenthood.”

On Monday, 7 November 1988, the Holy Father addressed a meeting of the Bishop Presidents of the Commissions for the Family of the Episcopal Conferences throughout the world; the meeting was organized by the Pontifical Council for the Family to mark the twentieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae. After noting that “it is extremely urgent to revive awareness of conjugal love as a gift,” the Pope concluded his talk by placing Humanae Vitae in the context of the well-being of the family and society.  “The future of a more human society as well, because it is inspired and sustained by a civilization of love and life, depends largely on the moral and spiritual ‘quality’ of marriage and the family, and depends on their ‘holiness.’
This is the supreme end of the Church’s pastoral action for which we bishops have the primary responsibility. The twentieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae reproposes this end to all of us with the same apostolic urgency of Paul VI who concluded his Encyclical by addressing his brothers in the episcopate with these words: “We implore you to give a lead to your priests who assist you in the sacred ministry, and to the faithful of your dioceses, and to devote yourselves with all zeal and without delay to safeguarding the holiness of marriage, the better to guide married life to its full human and Christian perfection. Look upon this mission as the most important work and responsibility committed to you at the present time” (Humanae Vitae, n.30).”35

Five days later, on Saturday, 12 November 1988, Pope John Paul II addressed about 400 theologians at the Second International Congress on Moral Theology in Rome celebrating the twentieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae.  “It [the teaching of H.V.] is not, in fact, a doctrine invented by man: it was stamped on the very nature of the human person by God the Creator’s hand and confirmed by Him in Revelation. Calling it into question, therefore, is equivalent to refusing God Himself the obedience of our intelligence.36  It is equivalent to preferring the dim light of our reason to the light of divine Wisdom, thereby falling into the darkness of error and resulting in the undermining of other fundamental principles of Christian doctrine (n.3).”51

Then the Holy Father proceeded to teach that it is wrong to make an appeal to conscience as a way to escape the obligation to form your conscience according to the truth taught by Christ through the teaching office of His Church:   “During these years, following the contestation about Humanae Vitae, the Christian doctrine on moral conscience itself has been questioned by accepting the idea of creative conscience of the moral norm. In this way, that bond of obedience to the holy will of the Creator, in which the very dignity of man consists, is radically broken. Conscience, in fact, is the ‘place’ where man is illuminated by a light which does not come to him from his created and always fallible reason, but from the very Wisdom of the Word in whom all things were created. ‘Conscience’, as Vatican II again admirably states, “is man’s most secret core, and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths” (Gaudium et Spes, 16).

From this some consequences are drawn which are to be stressed.

“Since the Magisterium of the Church was created by Christ the Lord to enlighten conscience, then to appeal to that conscience precisely to contest the truth of what is taught by the Magisterium implies rejection of the Catholic concept both of the Magisterium and moral conscience. To speak about the inviolable dignity of conscience without further specification runs the risk of grave errors. There is a great difference between the person who falls into error after having used all the means at his or her disposal in the search for truth, and the situation of one who, either through simple acquiescence to the majority opinion, often deliberately created by the powers of the world, or through negligence, takes little pains to discover the truth. The clear teaching of Vatican II reminds us of this: ‘Yet it often happens that conscience goes astray through ignorance which it is unable to avoid, without thereby losing its dignity. This cannot be said of the man who takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin’” (ibid.).
“The Church’s Magisterium is among the means which Christ’s redeeming love has provided to avoid this danger of error. In His name it has a real teaching authority. Therefore, it cannot be said that the faithful have embarked on a diligent search for truth if they do not take into account what the Magisterium teaches, or if, by putting it on the same level as any other source of knowledge, one makes oneself judge, or if in doubt, one follows one’s own opinion or that of theologians, preferring it to the sure teaching of the Magisterium (n.4).”52

John Paul II then reaffirmed the teaching of “no exceptions” that he had made five years earlier:  “Closely connected with the theme of moral conscience is the theme of the binding force of the moral norm taught by Humanae Vitae.

By describing the contraceptive act as intrinsically illicit, Paul VI meant to teach that the moral norm is such that it does not admit exceptions. No personal or social circumstances could ever, can now, or will ever, render such an act lawful in itself. The existence of particular norms regarding man’s way of acting in the world, which are endowed with a binding force that excludes always and in whatever situation the possibility of exceptions, is a constant teaching of Tradition and of the Church’s Magisterium which cannot be called in question by the Catholic theologian (n. 5).”53

JFK: To be concluded tomorrow.