Humanae Vitae and John 14:26

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

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

Humanae Vitae: The Argument from Sociology

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