Archive for the ‘Contraception’ Category

Natural Family Planning and the Traditional View on Sexual Relations

October 1, 2009

The introduction of and widespread insistence on a celibate priesthood seems to have led to a number of views in the Nicene era (give or take a hundred years), which continued to hold sway for a few generations after the Reformation. Thus, for example, it was believed that virginity was – in itself – a virtue. This lead, it seems, both to the idea that Mary was perpetually a virgin, and also to the idea that sexual relations are basically bad – the only thing they are good for (or in some cases, permissible for) is making babies.

Occasionally we see Roman Catholics trying to latch onto these old views as though they supported the Roman Catholic view – and to some extent they do: many of these old views decry the use of chemical sterilization, abortion, oral copulation, and the technique used by Onan (not to be too graphic). All of these things also seem to be condemned by Rome today. For example, “This Rock” magazine ran, in a section titled “The Fathers Know Best,” a series of quotations that they alleged were against contraception (link to article, Volume 16, Number 7, September 2005). Some certainly were against contraception, some were not. For example, the Epistle of [pseudo-]Barnabas was the first item on the list, but it did not refer to contraception as such, but to oral copulation).

The problem for Rome is that today she promotes “Natural Family Planning,” which is itself a contraceptive technique (sometimes referred to as the “rhythm method” of contraception). It is a way that is supposed to provide married people with a way to have sexual intercourse without having children (if they so desire). But this technique is condemned by the same authors. For example, the first church father to be quoted in the article is Clement of Alexandria. The article quotes two selections from a portion of Clement of Alexandria’s “The Instructor,” that Schaff thought better to leave in Latin (because it contains sexually explicit content). The first selection is a somewhat questionable translation that is, in any event, rather vague as to what is precisely intended. The second is much more clear, but it is clear that Clement of Alexandria (lived from about A.D. 150 – 215) views sex as inappropriate except for the purpose of procreation:

“But otherwise, to come together other than to procreate children is to do injury to nature … .” Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor of Children, Book 2, Chapter 10 (my own translation from the Latin section in the Schaff translation) (“Aliter autem coire, quam ad liberorum procreationem, est facere injuriam naturae … .”).

One expanded version of the article (found here) contains a quotation from Hippolytus (lived about A.D. 170 – 236) that has an ambiguous negative reference to the use of drugs. In the context, perhaps the better sense is simply refer to Hippolytus condemning abortions. The citation in the expanded article seems a bit off, if the chapters in Schaff’s edition are the guide, but the quotation as it appears in Schaff’s collection, with the editor’s footnote included in-line, is as follows:

And the hearers of Callistus being delighted with his tenets, continue with him, thus mocking both themselves as well as many others, and crowds of these dupes stream together into his school. Wherefore also his pupils are multiplied, and they plume themselves upon the crowds (attending the school) for the sake of pleasures which Christ did not permit. But in contempt of Him, they place restraint on the commission of no sin, alleging that they pardon those who acquiesce (in Callistus’ opinions). For even also he permitted females, if they were unwedded, [Editor’s Footnote: This passage, of which there are different readings, has been variously interpreted. The rendering followed above does probably less violence to the text than others proposed. The variety of meaning generally turns on the word ἐναξία in Miller’s text. Bunsen alters it into ἐν ἀξίᾳ…ἡλικίᾳ, i.e., were inflamed at a proper age. Dr. Wordsworth reads ἡλικιώτῃ…ἀναξίῳ, i.e., an unworthy comrade. Roeper reads ἡλικίᾳ…ἀναξίου, i.e., in the bloom of youth were enamoured with one undeserving of their choice.] and burned with passion at an age at all events unbecoming, or if they were not disposed to overturn their own dignity through a legal marriage, that they might have whomsoever they would choose as a bedfellow, whether a slave or free, and that a woman, though not legally married, might consider such a companion as a husband. Whence women, reputed believers, began to resort to drugs [Editor’s Footnote: Dr. Wordsworth places περιδεσμεῖσθαι in the first sentence, and translates thus: “women began to venture to bandage themselves with ligaments to produce abortion, and to deal with drugs in order to destroy what was conceived.”] for producing sterility, and to gird themselves round, so to expel what was being conceived on account of their not wishing to have a child either by a slave or by any paltry fellow, for the sake of their family and excessive wealth. [Editor’s Footnote: The prescience of Hermas and Clement is here illustrated. See vol. ii. pp. 9, 32, 279, 597, etc.] Behold, into how great impiety that lawless one has proceeded, by inculcating adultery and murder at the same time! And withal, after such audacious acts, they, lost to all shame, attempt to call themselves a Catholic Church! [Editor’s Footnote: Elucidation XIV.]

– Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, Book 9, Chapter 7

As you can see, the quotation is a bit ambiguous at best – does it mean drugs that sterilize or those that produce abortions? The context seems to support the latter better, but the editors seem to have favored the broader sense. In any event, Hippolytus’ condemnation seems to be reserved for adultery and murder (which would include abortion, of course).

Next in the list of fathers from “This Rock” is Lactantius (lived about A.D. 250 – 325). The first quotation provided is misleading – Lactantius comments that it would better in certain instances to abstain from marital relations. Better than what? Lactantius does not have in mind in that context contraception, but infanticide and leaving children abandoned:

Therefore let no one imagine that even this is allowed, to strangle newly-born children, which is the greatest impiety; for God breathes into their souls for life, and not for death. But men, that there may be no crime with which they may not pollute their hands, deprive souls as yet innocent and simple of the light which they themselves have not given. Can any one, indeed, expect that they would abstain from the blood of others who do not abstain even from their own? But these are without any controversy wicked and unjust. What are they whom a false piety [Editor’s Note: They thought it less criminal to expose children than to strangle them.] compels to expose their children? Can they be considered innocent who expose their own offspring as a prey to dogs, and as far as it depends upon themselves, kill them in a more cruel manner than if they had strangled them? Who can doubt that he is impious who gives occasion [Editor’s Note: i.e., by exposing them, that others may through compassion bring then up.] for the pity of others? For, although that which he has wished should befall the child—namely, that it should be brought up—he has certainly consigned his own offspring either to servitude or to the brothel? But who does not understand, who is ignorant what things may happen, or are accustomed to happen, in the case of each sex, even through error? For this is shown by the example of Œdipus alone, confused with twofold guilt. It is therefore as wicked to expose as it is to kill. But truly parricides complain of the scantiness of their means, and allege that they have not enough for bringing up more children; as though, in truth, their means were in the power of those who possess them, or God did not daily make the rich poor, and the poor rich. Wherefore, if any one on account of poverty shall be unable to bring up children, it is better to abstain from marriage [Ab uxoris congressione.] than with wicked hands to mar the work of God.

– Lactantius, The Divine Institutes, Book 6, Chapter 20

But despite that misleading selection from Lactantius, Lactantius does have something relevant to say on our topic, though not something particularly helpful to Rome’s position. In fact, Lactantius’ position is one that we will end up seeing from several of the fathers, namely that sex is only permissible for the purpose of making babies:

But just as God gave us eyes, not so that we would watch and seize pleasure, but so that we would see those acts that are pertinent necessities of life, likewise, the generative (“genitalem”) body part, as the name itself teaches, we have received for nothing else than the production of offspring.

– Lactantius, Divine Institutes, Book 6, Chapter 23 (my own translation from the Latin section in the Schaff translation) (“Sicut autem dedit nobis oculos Deus, non ut spectemus, voluptatemque capiamus, sed ut videamus propter eos actus, qui pertinent ad vitæ necessitatem, ita genitalem corporis partem, quod nomen ipsum docet, nulla alia causa nisi efficiendæ sobolis accepimus.”)

When the article turns next to the Council of Nicea (the first and more famous one, i.e. the one held around A.D. 325), we see another misuse of citations. The council prohibits self-castrated men (barring medical necessity) from serving in the ministry. The primary reason for this has nothing to do with contraception – although of course it does render such men incapable of procreation. The general perception at the time was that men who had been castrated would not have sexual urges, and consequently it wasn’t viewed like a vasectomy today. In short, the council was directed only to the clergy and was directed to self-castraters (following Origen’s example) and not to those seeking to contracept.

The next father to which appeal is made by the article is Epiphanius (lived about A.D. 315 – 403). Epiphanius refers to certain Gnostic heretics who were opposed to procreation, although apparently they were fond of copulation. Epiphanius describes them this way:

But though they copulate, they forbid procreation. Their eager pursuit of seduction is for enjoyment, not procreation, since the devil mocks people like these, and makes fun of the creature fashioned by God. They come to climax but absorb the seeds in their dirt – not by implanting them for procreation, but by eating the dirt themselves. But even though one of them gets caught and implants the start of the normal emission, and the woman becomes pregnant, let me tell you what more dreadful thing such people venture to do [I’ve omitted his graphic discussion of how they kill and sacrilegiously eat the unborn child.]

– Epiphanius, Panarion, Section II, Chapter 26 – Against Gnostics or Borborites, paragraph 5.2-6

Notice that Epiphanius deprecates copulation for pleasure and refers in somewhat veiled/euphemistic terms for a way in which they attempt to avoid procreation, and whereby they murder any children that come from their copulation. Epiphanius is very insistent on the need for married people to procreate:

It is a real misfortune for me to tell this; only God can close the abyss of this stench. And I shall leave the spot, praying the all-sovereign God that no one has been trapped in the mud, and no one’s mind has absorbed any of the reeking filth. For in the first place the apostle Paul grubs up the entire root of their wickedness with his injunction about younger widows: “Younger widows refuse, for after they have waxed wanton against Christ they will marry; having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith … But let them marry, bear children, guide the house.” But if the apostle says to have children, while they decline procreation, this is the enterprise of a serpent and of bad teaching. Mastered by the pleasure of fornication they invent excuses for their uncleanness, to tell themselves that their licentiousness fulfills [Paul’s commandment].

– Epiphanius, Panarion, Section II, Chapter 26 – Against Gnostics or Borborites, paragraph 14.1-3 (elipsis in original)

Those are not his only comments in that work on the subject, though. He similarly interprets 1 Timothy 4:2-3 as referring (perhaps among others) to certain men who have sexual relations but prevent procreation:

For they prevent chaste wedlock and the procreation of children, but are on fire in their consciences because they have sexual relations and come to climax, yet hinder procreation.

– Epiphanius, Panarion, Section II, Chapter 26 – Against Gnostics or Borborites, paragraph 16.4

At least one more example of Epiphanius’ teaching can be found in the same work:

Something like this fornication and licentiousness can be seen in the particularly dreadful snake the ancients called the “viper with no pangs.” For the birth of this kind of viper resembles the Gnostics’ wickedness. Whether they perform their filthy acts with men or women, they still forbid insemination, thus doing away with the procreation God has given his creatures – as the apostles says, “receiving in themselves the recompense of their error which was meet,” and so on. So, we are told, when the viper with no pangs grows amorous, female for male and male for female, they would twine together, and the male would thrust his head in the jaws of the gaping female. But she would bite the male’s head off in passion and so swallow the poison that dripped in its mouth, and conceive a similar pair of snakes, a male and a female, within her. When this pair had come to maturity in her belly and had no way to be born, they would lacerate their mother’s side to come to birth – so that both their father and mother perished. This is why they called it the “viper with no pangs;” it has no experience of the pangs of birth. Now this is the most dreadful and fearsome of snakes, since it achieves its own extermination within itself, and receives its dirt by mouth; and this crack-brained sect is like it.

– Epiphanius, Section II, Chapter 26 – Against Gnostics or Borborites, paragraph 19.2-6)

As you can see from this, part of Epiphanius’ beef with these Gnostics/Borborites, is their prohibition on procreation. Nevertheless, the argument that Epiphanius makes (and I’ve tried to include all of it) has nothing to do specifically with the manner in which they prevent procreation (though he does seem to hinting strongly at a particular act that they employ to try to avoid pregnancy).

The shorter version of the article turns next to Augustine (lived about A.D. 354 – 430), providing four quotations from three of his works. The fourth of those quotations is from Augustine’s work on Marriage in which Augustine expresses some similar views to those we’ve seen above (with perhaps even a somewhat sharper edge against sexual relations in general):

It is, however, one thing for married persons to have intercourse only for the wish to beget children, which is not sinful: it is another thing for them to desire carnal pleasure in cohabitation, but with the spouse only, which involves venial sin. For although propagation of offspring is not the motive of the intercourse, there is still no attempt to prevent such propagation, either by wrong desire or evil appliance. They who resort to these, although called by the name of spouses, are really not such; they retain no vestige of true matrimony, but pretend the honourable designation as a cloak for criminal conduct.

– Augustine, Marriage and Concupiscence, Chapter 17

And again he says the same thing in the first work from which the article quotes:

Lastly, there is the symbol of the breast, in which your very questionable chastity consists. For though you do not forbid sexual intercourse, you, as the apostle long ago said, forbid marriage in the proper sense, although this is the only good excuse for such intercourse. No doubt you will exclaim against this, and will make it a reproach against us that you highly esteem and approve perfect chastity, but do not forbid marriage, because your followers—that is, those in the second grade among you—are allowed to have wives. After you have said this with great noise and heat, I will quietly ask, Is it not you who hold that begetting children, by which souls are confined in flesh, is a greater sin than cohabitation? Is it not you who used to counsel us to observe as much as possible the time when a woman, after her purification, is most likely to conceive, and to abstain from cohabitation at that time, lest the soul should be entangled in flesh? This proves that you approve of having a wife, not for the procreation of children, but for the gratification of passion. In marriage, as the marriage law declares, the man and woman come together for the procreation of children. Therefore whoever makes the procreation of children a greater sin than copulation, forbids marriage, and makes the woman not a wife, but a mistress, who for some gifts presented to her is joined to the man to gratify his passion. Where there is a wife there must be marriage. But there is no marriage where motherhood is not in view; therefore neither is there a wife. In this way you forbid marriage. Nor can you defend yourselves successfully from this charge, long ago brought against you prophetically by the Holy Spirit.

– Augustine, On the Morals of the Manichaeans, Chapter 18, Section 65

And yet again we see similar sentiments from Augustine in another of his works on Marriage (quoted in the expanded version of the article):

For necessary sexual intercourse for begetting is free from blame, and itself is alone worthy of marriage. But that which goes beyond this necessity, no longer follows reason, but lust. [Rom. i. 26, 27] And yet it pertains to the character of marriage, not to exact this, but to yield it to the partner, lest by fornication the other sin damnably. But, if both are set under such lust, they do what is plainly not matter of marriage. However, if in their intercourse they love what is honest more than what is dishonest, that is, what is matter of marriage more than what is not matter of marriage, this is allowed to them on the authority of the Apostle as matter of pardon: and for this fault, they have in their marriage, not what sets them on to commit it, but what entreats pardon for it, if they turn not away from them the mercy of God, either by not abstaining on certain days, that they may be free to pray, and through this abstinence, as through fasting, may commend their prayers; or by changing the natural use into that which is against nature, which is more damnable when it is done in the case of husband or wife. For, whereas that natural use, when it pass beyond the compact of marriage, that is, beyond the necessity of begetting, is pardonable in the case of a wife, damnable in the case of an harlot; that which is against nature is execrable when done in the case of an harlot, but more execrable in the case of a wife.

– Augustine, On the Good of Marriage, Sections 11-12

And still further we see the same kind of thoughts in Augustine’s work against Faustus, which is the remaining work of Augustine that was identified in either version of the article:

The first of these precepts is, “Honor thy father and mother;” which Paul quotes as the first commandment with promise, and himself repeats the injunction. But thou art taught by thy doctrine of devils to regard thy parents as thine enemies, because their union brought thee into the bonds of flesh, and laid impure fetters even on thy god. The doctrine that the production of children is an evil, directly opposes the next precept, “Thou shall not commit adultery;” for those who believe this doctrine, in order that their wives may not conceive, are led to commit adultery even in marriage. They take wives, as the law declares, for the procreation of children; but from this erroneous fear of polluting the substance of the deity, their intercourse with their wives is not of a lawful character; and the production of children, which is the proper end of marriage, they seek to avoid. As the apostle long ago predicted of thee, thou dost indeed forbid to marry, for thou seekest to destroy the purpose of marriage. Thy doctrine turns marriage into an adulterous connection, and the bed-chamber into a brothel.

– Augustine, Reply to Faustus, Book 15, Section 7

And still further, in the same work:

Referring, then, to the eternal law which enjoins the preservation of natural order and forbids the breach of it, let us see how our father Abraham sinned, that is, how he broke this law, in the things which Faustus has charged him with as highly criminal. In his irrational craving to have children, says Faustus, and not believing God, who promised that his wife Sara should have a son, he defiled himself with a mistress. But here Faustus, in his irrational desire to find fault, both discloses the impiety of his heresy, and in his error and ignorance praises Abraham’s intercourse with the handmaid. For as the eternal law—that is, the will of God the Creator of all—for the preservation of the natural order, permits the indulgence of the bodily appetite under the guidance of reason in sexual intercourse, not for the gratification of passion, but for the continuance of the race through the procreation of children; so, on the contrary, the unrighteous law of the Manichæans, in order to prevent their god, whom they bewail as confined in all seeds, from suffering still closer confinement in the womb, requires married people not on any account to have children, their great desire being to liberate their god. Instead, therefore, of an irrational craving in Abraham to have children, we find in Manichæus an irrational fancy against having children. So the one preserved the natural order by seeking in marriage only the production of a child; while the other, influenced by his heretical notions, thought no evil could be greater than the confinement of his god.

– Augustine, Reply to Faustus, Book 22, Section 30

As you can see, for Augustine, the point of sexual relations is to produce children: there’s no other acceptable purpose to Augustine’s mind. This seems to be a somewhat more extreme view than some of the earlier writings we saw above, but it is consistent with the theme that we see in the patristic literature by the celibate clergy of viewing sex as something barely tolerable in marriage.

Jerome (lived about A.D. 347 – 420), cited only in the expanded version of the article, takes the matter to an even further extreme, indicating that all sexual relations are impure (“The truth is that, in view of the purity of the body of Christ, all sexual intercourse is unclean.”) and that sex is only tolerated for procreation (“Does he imagine that we approve of any sexual intercourse except for the procreation of children?”):

But I wonder why he set [Gen. xxxviii.] Judah and Tamar before us for an example, unless perchance even harlots give him pleasure; or [Gen. xxxviii. 9.] Onan who was slain because he grudged his brother seed. Does he imagine that we approve of any sexual intercourse except for the procreation of children? As regards Moses, it is clear that he would have been in peril at the inn, if [Ex. iv. 24–26.] Sephora which is by interpretation a bird, had not circumcised her son, and cut off the foreskin of marriage with the knife which prefigured the Gospel. This is that Moses who when he saw a great vision and heard an angel, or the Lord speaking in the bush, [Ex. iii. 5.] could not by any means approach to him without first loosing the latchet of his shoe, that is, putting off the bonds of marriage. And we need not be surprised at this in the case of one who was a prophet, lawgiver, and the friend of God, seeing that all the people when about to draw nigh to Mount Sinai, and to hear the voice speaking to them, were commanded to sanctify themselves in three days, and keep themselves from their wives. I am out of order in violating historical sequence, but I may point out that the same thing was said by [1 Sam. xxi. 4.] Ahimelech the priest to David when he fled to Nob: “If only the young men have kept themselves from women.” And David answered, “of a truth about these three days.” For the shew-bread, like the body of Christ, might not be eaten by those who rose from the marriage bed. And in passing we ought to consider the words “if only the young men have kept themselves from women.” The truth is that, in view of the purity of the body of Christ, all sexual intercourse is unclean. In the law also it is enjoined that the [Levit. xxi. 13, 14.] high priest must not marry any but a virgin, nor must he take to wife a widow. If a virgin and a widow are on the same level, how is it that one is taken, the other rejected? [Editor’s Footnote: The reference is, probably, to Levit. xxii. 13. But the second marriage is not there prohibited, and in the ideal polity of Ezekiel (xliv. 22) a priest might marry the widow of a priest.] And the widow of a priest is bidden abide in the house of her father, and not to contract a second marriage. [Levit. xxi. 3.] If the sister of a priest dies in virginity, just as the priest is commanded to go to the funeral of his father and mother, so must he go to hers. But if she be married, she is despised as though she belonged not to him. He who has [Editor’s footnote: Deut. xx. 6, 7, where an indulgence, not a prohibition, is clearly indicated.] married a wife, and he who has planted a vineyard, an image of the propagation of children, is forbidden to go to the battle. For he who is the slave of his wife cannot be the Lord’s soldier. And the laver in the tabernacle was cast from the mirrors of the women who [Editor’s Footnote: Ex. xxxviii. 8. Sept. Vulg. “who watched;” Onkelos’ Targum “who assembled to pray,” and so the Syriac Version. The Hebrew word signifies “to go forth to war,” but is applied to the temple service, a sort of militia sacra (Gesenius). Hence Rev. Version, “the serving women which served at the door of the tent of meeting;” and Margin, “the women which assembled to minister.” Comp. Numb. iv. 3, 23, 30, 35, 39; and 1 Sam. ii. 22.] fasted, signifying the bodies of pure virgins: And within, [Ex. xxxvii.] in the sanctuary, both cherubim, and mercy-seat, and the ark of the covenant, and the table of shew-bread, and the candle-stick, and the censer, were made of the purest gold. For silver might not be brought into the holy of holies.

– Jerome, Against Jovinianus, Book 1, Section 20

Although the expanded version of the article provides a quotation that suggests that Jerome is opposing oral contraceptives, an accurate quotation in context shows he is just opposing chemically induced abortions:

I cannot bring myself to speak of the many virgins who daily fall and are lost to the bosom of the church, their mother: stars over which the proud foe sets up his throne, [Isa. xiv. 13.] and rocks hollowed by the serpent that he may dwell in their fissures. You may see many women widows before wedded, who try to conceal their miserable fall by a lying garb. Unless they are betrayed by swelling wombs or by the crying of their infants, they walk abroad with tripping feet and heads in the air. Some go so far as to take potions, that they may insure barrenness, and thus murder human beings almost before their conception. Some, when they find themselves with child through their sin, use drugs to procure abortion, and when (as often happens) they die with their offspring, they enter the lower world laden with the guilt not only of adultery against Christ but also of suicide and child murder. Yet it is these who say: “‘Unto the pure all things are pure;’ [Tit. i. 15.] my conscience is sufficient guide for me. A pure heart is what God looks for. Why should I abstain from meats which God has created to be received with thanksgiving?” [1 Tim. iv. 3.] And when they wish to appear agreeable and entertaining they first drench themselves with wine, and then joining the grossest profanity to intoxication, they say “Far be it from me to abstain from the blood of Christ.” And when they see another pale or sad they call her “wretch” or “manichæan;” [Editor’s Note: The Manichæans believed evil to be inseparable from matter. Hence they inculcated a rigid asceticism.] quite logically, indeed, for on their principles fasting involves heresy. When they go out they do their best to attract notice, and with nods and winks encourage troops of young fellows to follow them. Of each and all of these the prophet’s words are true: “Thou hast a whore’s forehead; thou refusest to be ashamed.” [Jer. iii. 3.] Their robes have but a narrow purple stripe, [Editor’s Note: Plebeians wore a narrow stripe, patricians a broad one.] it is true; and their head-dress is somewhat loose, so as to leave the hair free. From their shoulders flutters the lilac mantle which they call “ma-forte;” they have their feet in cheap slippers and their arms tucked up tight-fitting sleeves. Add to these marks of their profession an easy gait, and you have all the virginity that they possess. Such may have eulogizers of their own, and may fetch a higher price in the market of perdition, merely because they are called virgins. But to such virgins as these I prefer to be displeasing.

– Jerome, Letter 22 (To Eustochium), Section 13

The next (and final, in the short version of the article) father to be cited is John Chrysostom (lived about A.D. 347 – 407).

And to convince you that not even yet have we set forth his madness, let there be no man to accuse and frighten him, but take away the terror of the laws in supposition awhile, and thou wilt see him snatching up a sword, laying violent hands on all, and sparing none; neither friend, nor kinsman, nor brother, nor even his very parent. Nay rather, in this case there is not even need of supposing, but let us ask him, if he is not for ever framing to himself such imaginations, and if he does not in thought range among all men to destroy them; both friends and kinsmen, and even his very parents. Nay rather there is no need even to ask, because in truth all men know that they who are under the power of this disease are wearied even of their father’s old age; and that which is sweet, and universally desirable, the having children, they esteem grievous and unwelcome: many at least with this view have even paid money to be childless, and have maimed their nature, not only by slaying their children after birth, but by not suffering them even to be born at all.

– John Chrysostom, Homily 28 on Matthew (Matthew 8:23-24), Section 5

The question here is what “maimed their nature” means here. It looks as though it refers to castration or the like. The last expression is vague enough to range from abortion to practically any technique to avoid conception.

But what is, “If such be the case of a man with his wife?” That is, if to this end he is joined with her, that they should be one, or, on the other hand, if the man shall get to himself blame for these things, and always transgresses by putting away, it were easier to fight against natural desire and against one’s self, than against a wicked woman.

What then saith Christ? He said not, “yea, it is easier, and so do,” lest they should suppose that the thing is a law; but He subjoined, “Not all men receive it, but they to whom it is given,” [Matt. xix. 11.] raising the thing, and showing that it is great, and in this way drawing them on, and urging them.

But see herein a contradiction. For He indeed saith this is a great thing; but they, that it is easier. For it was meet that both these things should be done, and that it should be at once acknowledged a great thing by Him, that it might render them more forward, and by the things said by themselves it should be shown to be easier, that on this ground too they might the rather choose virginity and continence. For since to speak of virginity seemed to be grievous, by the constraint of this law He drove them to this desire. Then to show the possibility of it, He saith, “There are some eunuchs, who were so born from their mother’s womb, there are some eunuchs which were made eunuchs of men, and there be eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of Heaven’s sake,” [Matt. xix. 12.] by these words secretly leading them to choose the thing, and establishing the possibility of this virtue, and all but saying, Consider if thou wert in such case by nature, or hadst endured this selfsame thing at the hands of those who inflict such wanton injuries, what wouldest thou have done, being deprived indeed of the enjoyment, yet not having a reward? Thank God therefore now, for that with rewards and crowns thou undergoest this, which those men endure without crowns; or rather not even this, but what is much lighter, being supported both by hope, and by the consciousness of the good work, and not having the desire so raging like waves within thee.

For the excision of a member is not able to quell such waves, and to make a calm, like the curb of reason; or rather, reason only can do this.

For this intent therefore He brought in those others, even that He might encourage these, since if this was not what He was establishing, what means His saying concerning the other eunuchs? But when He saith, that they made themselves eunuchs, He means not the excision of the members, far from it, but the putting away of wicked thoughts. Since the man who hath mutilated himself, in fact, is subject even to a curse, as Paul saith, “I would they were even cut off which trouble you.” [Gal. v. 12.] And very reasonably. For such a one is venturing on the deeds of murderers, and giving occasion to them that slander God’s creation, and opens the mouths of the Manichæans, and is guilty of the same unlawful acts as they that mutilate themselves amongst the Greeks. For to cut off our members hath been from the beginning a work of demoniacal agency, and satanic device, that they may bring up a bad report upon the work of God, that they may mar this living creature, that imputing all not to the choice, but to the nature of our members, the more part of them may sin in security, as being irresponsible; and doubly harm this living creature, both by mutilating the members, and by impeding the forwardness of the free choice in behalf of good deeds.

These are the ordinances of the devil, bringing in, besides the things which we have mentioned, another wicked doctrine also, and making way beforehand for the arguments concerning destiny and necessity even from hence, and everywhere marring the freedom given to us of God, and persuading us that evil deeds are of nature, and hence secretly implanting many other wicked doctrines, although not openly. For such are the devil’s poisons.

Therefore I beseech you to flee from such lawlessness. For together with the things I have mentioned, neither doth the force of lust become milder hereby, but even more fierce. For from another origin hath the seed that is in us its sources, and from another cause do its waves swell. And some say from the brain, some from the loins, this violent impulse hath its birth; but I should say from nothing else than from an ungoverned will and a neglected mind: if this be temperate, there is no evil result from the motions of nature.

Having spoken then of the eunuchs that are eunuchs for nought and fruitlessly, unless with the mind they too practise temperance, and of those that are virgins for Heaven’s sake, He proceeds again to say, “He that is able to receive it, let him receive it,” at once making them more earnest by showing that the good work is exceeding in greatness, and not suffering the thing to be shut up in the compulsion of a law, because of His unspeakable gentleness. And this He said, when He showed it to be most possible, in order that the emulation of the free choice might be greater.

And if it is of free choice, one may say, how doth He say, at the beginning, “All men do not receive it, but they to whom it is given?” That thou mightest learn that the conflict is great, not that thou shouldest suspect any compulsory allotments. For it is given to those, even to the willing.

But He spake thus to show that much influence from above is needed by him who entereth these lists, whereof He that is willing shall surely partake. For it is customary for Him to use this form of speech when the good work done is great, as when He saith, “To you it is given to know the mysteries.”

And that this is true, is manifest even from the present instance. For if it be of the gift from above only, and they that live as virgins contribute nothing themselves, for nought did He promise them the kingdom of Heaven, and distinguish them from the other eunuchs.

But mark thou, I pray, how from some men’s wicked doings, other men gain. I mean, that the Jews went away having learnt nothing, for neither did they ask with the intent of learning, but the disciples gained even from hence.

– John Chrysostom, Homily 62 on Matthew (Matthew 19:1), Section 3

It should be noted that the preceding passage is about men who make themselves eunuchs, thereby depriving themselves of pleasure. This is generally on the topic of sexual organs, but it is not related specifically the issue of contraception. Indeed, Chrysostom is more focused on mental temperance than on the “motions of nature.”

And again he writes:

And in saying this I do not forbid your meeting together, or taking your suppers at a common table, but to prevent your behaving unseemly, and as wishing indulgence to be really indulgence, and not a punishment, nor a vengeance, or drunkenness and revelling. Let the Gentiles (ἑλληνες) see that Christians know best how to indulge, and to indulge in an orderly way. For it says, “Rejoice in the Lord with trembling.” (Ps. ii. 11.) But how then can one rejoice? Why, by saying hymns, making prayers, introducing psalms in the place of those low songs. Thus will Christ also be at our table, and will fill the whole feast with blessing, when thou prayest, when thou singest spiritual songs, when thou invitest the poor to partake of what is set before thee, when thou settest much orderliness and temperance over the feast. So thou wilt make the party a Church, [Editor’s footnote: Ora et ibi templum est, D. Bernard.] by hymning, in the room of ill-timed shouts and cheers, the Master of all things. And tell me not, that another custom has come to prevail, but correct what is thus amiss. “For whether ye eat,” it says, “or whether ye drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. x. 31.) For from banquets of that sort you have evil desires, and impurities, and wives come to be in disrepute, and harlots in honor among you. Hence come the upsetting of families and evils unnumbered, and all things are turned upside down, and ye have left the pure fountain, and run to the conduit of mire. For that an harlot’s body is mire, I do not enquire of any one else but of thine own self that wallowest in the mire, if thou dost not feel ashamed of thyself, if thou dost not think thyself unclean after the sin is over. Wherefore I beseech you flee fornication, and the mother of it, drunkenness. Why sow where reaping is impossible, or rather even if thou dost reap, the fruit brings thee great shame? For even if a child be born, it at once disgraces thyself, and has itself had injustice done it in being born through thee illegitimate and base. And if thou leave it never so much money, both the son of an harlot, and that of a servant-maid, is disreputable at home, disreputable in the city, disreputable in a court of law: disreputable too wilt thou be also, both in thy lifetime, and when dead. For if thou have departed even, the memorials of thy unseemliness abide. Why then bring disgrace upon all these? Why sow where the ground makes it its care to destroy the fruit? where there are many efforts at abortion? where there is murder before the birth? for even the harlot thou dost not let continue a mere harlot, but makest her a murderess also. You see how drunkenness leads to whoredom, whoredom to adultery, adultery to murder; or rather to a something even worse than murder. For I have no name to give it, since it does not take off the thing born, but prevent its being born. Why then dost thou abuse the gift of God, and fight with His laws, and follow after what is a curse as if a blessing, and make the chamber of procreation a chamber for murder, and arm the woman that was given for childbearing unto slaughter? For with a view to drawing more money by being agreeable and an object of longing to her lovers, even this she is not backward to do, so heaping upon thy head a great pile of fire. For even if the daring deed be hers, yet the causing of it is thine. Hence too come idolatries, since many, with a view to become acceptable, devise incantations, and libations, and love-potions, and countless other plans. Yet still after such great unseemliness, after slaughters, after idolatries, the thing seems to many to belong to things indifferent, aye, and to many that have wives too. Whence the mingle (φορυτὸς) of mischief is the greater. For sorceries [Editor’s footnote: Or poisonings.] are applied not to the womb that is prostituted, but to the injured wife, and there are plottings without number, and invocations of devils, and necromancies, and daily wars, and truceless fightings, and home-cherished jealousies. Wherefore also Paul, after saying, “not in chamberings and wantonness,” proceeds, “not in strife and envying,” as knowing the wars that result therefrom; the upsetting of families, the wrongs done to legitimate children, the other ills unnumbered. That we may then escape from all these, let us put on Christ, and be with Him continually. For this is what putting Him on is; never being without Him, having Him evermore visible in us, through our sanctification, through our moderation. So we say of friends, such an one is wrapped up (ἐνεδύσατο) in such another, meaning their great love, and keeping together incessantly.

– John Chrysostom, Homily 24 (Romans 13:11), on the words “And make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” (vs. 14)

This preceding passage from Chrysostom condemns abortion, not contraception. It also condemns fornication and the mother of fornication, drunkenness.

Ver. 12. “I would that they which unsettle you, would even cut themselves off.”

Observe how bitterly he speaks here against their deceivers. At the outset he directed his charge against those who were deceived, and called them foolish, once and again. Now, having sufficiently corrected and instructed them, he turns to their deceivers. And you should remark his wisdom in the manner in which he admonishes and chastens the former as his own children, and as capable of receiving correction, but their deceivers he cuts off, as aliens and incurably depraved. And this he does, partly, when he says, “he shall bear his judgment whosoever he be;” partly when he utters the imprecation against them, “I would that they which unsettle you would even cut themselves off.” And he says well “that unsettle you.” For they had compelled them to abandon their own fatherland, their liberty, and their heavenly kindred, and to seek an alien and foreign one; they had cast them out of Jerusalem which is above and free, and compelled them to wander forth as captives and emigrants. On this account he curses them; and his meaning is as follows, For them I have no concern, “A man that is heretical after the first and second admonition refuse.” (Tit. iii. 10.) If they will, let them not only be circumcised, but mutilated. Where then are those who dare to mutilate themselves; seeing that they draw down the Apostolic curse, and accuse the workmanship of God, and take part with the Manichees? For the latter call the body a treacherous thing, and from the evil principle; and the former by their acts give countenance to these wretched doctrines, cutting off the member as being hostile and treacherous. Ought they not much rather to put out the eyes, for it is through the eyes that desire enters the soul? But in truth neither the eye nor any other part of us is to blame, but the depraved will only. But if you will not allow this, why do you not mutilate the tongue for blasphemy, the hands for rapine, the feet for their evil courses, in short, the whole body? For the ear enchanted by the sound of a flute hath often enervated the soul; and the perception of a sweet perfume by the nostrils hath bewitched the mind, and made it frantic for pleasure. Yet this would be extreme wickedness and satanic madness. The evil spirit, ever delighting in slaughter, hath seduced them to crush the instrument, as if its Maker had erred, whereas it was only necessary to correct the unruly passion of the soul. How then does it happen, one may say, that when the body is pampered, lust is inflamed? Observe here too that it is the sin of the soul, for to pamper the flesh is not an act of the flesh but of the soul, for if the soul choose to mortify it, it would possess absolute power over it. But what you do is just the same as if one seeing a man lighting a fire, and heaping on fuel, and setting fire to a house, were to blame the fire, instead of him who kindled it, because it had caught this heap of fuel, and risen to a great height. Yet the blame would attach not to the fire but to the one who kindled it; for it was given for the purpose of dressing food, affording light, and other like ministries, not for burning houses. In like manner desire is implanted for the rearing of families and the ensuring of life, not for adultery, or fornication, or lasciviousness; that a man may become a father, not an adulterer; a lawful husband, not a seducer; leaving heirs after him, not doing damage to another man’s. For adultery arises not from nature, but from wantonness against nature, which prescribes the use not the misuse. These remarks I have not made at random, but as a prelude to a dispute, as skirmishing against those who assert that the workmanship of God is evil, and who neglecting the sloth of the soul, madly inveigh against the body, and traduce our flesh, whereof Paul afterwards discourses, accusing not the flesh, but devilish thoughts.

– John Chrysostom, Commentary on Galatians, at Galatians 5:12

The preceding passage from Chrysostom deals with what he views as the Manichean error of trying to conquer lust by removing one’s sexual organ. This does not have to do with contraception, of course, since that’s not the reason behind the act involved.

In addition to the fathers discussed above, the expanded version of the article also draws upon Caesarius (lived about A.D. 470 – 543):

No woman should take potions for purposes of abortion, because she should not doubt that before the tribunal of Christ she will have to plead as many cases as the number of those she killed when already born or still conceived. Is anyone unable to warn that no woman should accept a potion to prevent conception or to condemn within herself the nature which God wanted to be fruitful? Indeed, she will be held guilty of as many murders as the number of those she might have conceived or borne, and unless suitable penance saves her she will be condemned to eternal death in hell. If a woman does not want to bear children she should enter upon a pious agreement with her husband, for only the abstinence of a Christian woman is chastity.

– Caesarius of Arles, Sermon 1, Section 12

This is a fitting conclusion to the series of quotations. It is, in fact, an example of a father condemning contraception. Nevertheless, one must note that his rational is twofold (1) abstinence is the only chastity and (2) the only way to avoid having children is abstinence. Notice as well that Caesarius considers that the woman should not seek to render infertile that which “God wanted to be fruitful.”

I realize that some folks will try to latch onto Caesarius and argue that the rhythm method of contraception is just periodic abstinence. Frankly and bluntly put, any idea that Caesarius meant periodic abstinence and not permanent abstinence is farfetched at best.

Generally speaking, as noted above, the trend was (tending into the medieval period) that the fathers viewed sexual relations as essentially a bad thing, but permissible as long as it was for the purpose of making babies.


Update: The following courtesy of Pastor David King:

Lactantius (260-330): Moreover, the passion of lust is implanted and innate in us for the procreation of children; but they who do not fix its limits in the mind use it for pleasure only. Thence arise unlawful loves, thence adulteries and debaucheries, thence all kinds of corruption. These passions, therefore, must be kept within their boundaries and directed into their right course, in which, even though they should be vehement, they cannot incur blame. (ANF: Vol. VII, The Epitome of the Divine Institutes, Chapter 61.)

Bellisario on Contraception (Again!)

April 1, 2009

Contraception seems to be a very hot topic for Mr. Bellisario, as he has yet another post on it on his blog (link).

Let’s examine what he says:

Turretin Fan has posted an audio response to my earlier article on contraception. He claims that since there are not any anathemas attached to the statements by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church on the teaching of contraception, that it is not infallible doctrine. The teaching that I posted earlier is the only “officially” held position that the Catholic Church has on contraception. First off there does not have to be an anathema attached to a teaching in order for it to be infallible. This is a qualifier that Turretin Fan has invented, since the Church has never taught that in order for something to be doctrine or dogma that there must be an anathema attached to it. Where Tf gets this I have no idea. It sounds like he presents an “Ace in the hole” here, but there is nothing that substantiates this undocumented statement of his.

Yes, Mr. Bellisario actually wrote that!

I suppose that Mr. Bellisario thinks I invented this:

The Pope must attach the sanction of anathema to the decree, either explicitly or implicitly. In other words, since obedience to superiors is necessary for salvation, the anathema means that the representative of Christ on earth intends to avail himself of the full height of his God-given authority and command our intellectual assent.


Of course, that applies specifically to papal infallibility, but a similar concept exists with respect to conciliar infallibility.

Perhaps, as well, Mr. Bellisario thinks I invented this:

The Second Vatican Council has not been treated as a part of the entire living Tradition of the Church, but as an end of Tradition, a new start from zero. The truth is that this particular Council defined no dogma at all, and deliberately chose to remain on a modest level, as a merely pastoral council; and yet many treat it as though it had made itself into a sort of superdogma which takes away the importance of all the rest.


“Defined no dogma at all” and was a “merely pastoral council.” Inconvenient for Bellisario? Yes. Invented by TurretinFan? No.

Don’t get me wrong: Vatican II is still viewed within Catholicism (leaving aside the sedavacantists and similar groups) as valid and binding. Indeed the same source I quoted immediately above says: “It is a necessary task to defend the Second Vatican Council against Msgr. Lefebvre, as valid, and as binding upon the Church.” And, of course, this source is the same person who is now pope.

I almost stopped my response to Mr. Bellisario’s ignorance at this point, but then thought that perhaps I should make clear the link between defining a doctrine and infallibility, though perhaps poor Mr. Bellisario will think I invented this as well:

It has been sometimes said that it is impossible to know whether or not a theological definition has been issued; but very few words are needed to show that the assertion is without foundation. At times, doubt will remain about the definitive nature of a decree, but as a rule no possibility of doubt is consistent with the terminology of a definitive decree. Thus in the doctrinal teaching of a general council, anathema attached to condemned errors is a certain sign of an infallible definition.


Bellisario continued:

Turretin says I cannot defend my position in regards to the Church’s teaching on contraception. I have demonstrated quite clearly that the Catholic Church has one clear teaching on this subject. (Contraception, more specifically the use of condoms). Let us dive into this empty argument provided by Turretin Fan. He claims that he has proven that there is disunity within the Catholic Church. My point is that there is no division within the “official” teaching of the Church. I do not know whether Turretin understands this or not, but individual bishops do not make up Catholic doctrine. He claims that since there is disagreement among bishops of the Church, that that in itself defeats Rome’s claims of the infallible Catholic Magisterium. This however does not prove that at all.

Or to paraphrase Bellisario, “I don’t care what TurretinFan’s point is, I want to argue over something else!” This is a great example of the use of straw man tactics that we see over and over again from Bellisario. Mr. Bellisario seems to be unable (or unwilling) to address the points I actually raise:

1) That the teaching on contraception in Humanae Vitae is not a doctrinal definition and consequently is considered “infallible” teaching within Romanism; and

2) The fact that Humanae Vitae teaches what it teaches doesn’t prevent, in practice, the bishops of his church openly holding to positions that disagree with Mr. Bellisario’s position.

Bellisario continued:

It is my argument that just because there are many bishops who refuse to follow the Magisterium’s clear “official” teaching on this subject, doesn’t negate the authority of the Magisterium, nor its effectiveness in teaching clear unifying doctrine. All it does is demonstrate that there are and always have been those who dissent from “official” Church teaching. So no, Turretin Fan has not demonstrated that there is disunity in the Catholic Church that upsets the authority and clearly held doctrine of the Catholic Church. The Magisterium can promulgate the truth all day long, yet if bishops refuse to follow, Turretin attaches the blame on the Magisterium and claims that it doesn’t solve doctrinal problems. This is clearly nonsense. Yes we have many clear examples of bishops rejecting Church teaching. So what? As I stated before, there have been times in the past where many bishops bought into heresies. The Church Magisterium however always held fast to true doctrine and dogma.

Notice how the straw man comes out again, this time attacked as “clearly nonsense.” Well, you know, I’m sure my position can sound like nonsense when it is misrepresented by Bellisario, but my actual position is something with which Bellisario cannot argue (as usual).

Bellisario continued:

Turretin Fan readily admits in his audio response that he never claimed to prove that “official” Catholic teaching was divided on this issue. It is quite obvious that any Catholic who wants to remain faithful to the Church will follow “official” teachings and not individual bishop’s dissenting views. Turretin Fan’s argument does not upset the Magisterium as he claims it does. What would he have Rome do, go out and hunt everyone down who dissents from “official” Church teaching and off them? That may not be a bad idea….I am joking here… Well Rome has essentially done this doctrinally in her documents. In my next post I will address the teaching of the Church and whether or not the teaching on contraception by the Church is an infallible doctrine.

Ah, at last Mr. Bellisario pays some limited attention to what I was saying. Yes, I never claimed to prove that “official” Catholic teaching was divided on this issue.

Mr. Bellisario jokes about hunting down those who dissent, but these folks are “dissenting” on an issue that has not been defined. That’s something that Mr. Bellisario doesn’t seem to get. There are really two issues here:

1) The issues Bellisario has identified as allegedly wrong positions by bishops of his own church (bishops that still hold their office and openly teach what they teach) are not contrary to any infallible teaching of his church (though they are contrary to things that Benedict XVI has said, and they are arguably contrary to what the CCC and Humanae Vitae said); and

2) Whether or not this matter has been defined, there is doctrinal and moral disunity within Catholicism, despite the organizational unity.

The second point is really the main point of this discussion, whereas the first point is carry-over from the previous debacle where Gene Bridges schooled Mr. Bellisario on the issue of contraception.

Bellisario continued:

I also got a chuckle once again that Turretin creates a “Mr. Bellisario vs the bishop” scenario instead of “official” Church teaching vs the bishop scenario, which would be a much more accurate headline. Be that as it may, Turretin Fan has only demonstrated that there are and always will be dissenters in the Church. He also readily admits that there is clear “official” Catholic Church teaching on this matter, which defeats his argument trying to tear down the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. In my next article I will go through the wording of “official” church documents and demonstrate that this moral teaching cannot be changed, and therefore falls into the category of Church doctrine.

Again, we see more straw man arguments. Although he noted above (apparently) that it is not my goal with this argument to “tear down the Magisterium of the Catholic Church” – now Mr. Bellisario claims that he has defeated this argument that I haven’t presented. It seems Mr. Bellisario has struck on the perfect way to win arguments: argue with points that the other side doesn’t either present or defend.


P.S. For more on the infallibility issue and Humanae Vitae, check out my friendly Romanist opponent, Kelly Wilson at Kakistocrat (link).

UPDATE: Bellisario simply couldn’t get enough of this topic and posted YET AGAIN! (link) I’ll address his comments below:

I really got a kick out of Turretin’s last post where he tries, unsuccessfully to substantiate, that for the Catholic church to define something infallibly it must use anathemas to do so. Anyone who knows anything about Catholicism knows this is simply not true. Turretin thought it would clever to post on the specific use of papal proclamations which we haven’t even discussed so far. We are not arguing over one document as TF is suggesting. If you see my original post i used several. Then he quotes something on Vatican II which we also haven’t even addressed specifically, but TF likes to use Red Herrings to hide his idiotic arguments. I guess he didn’t notice that many of the documents I soured were not from VCII. I won’t waste any more time on the foolish Turretin Fan because he is not rational.

Poor Bellisario, his ignorance exposed, lashes out. It’s not the first time he’s made this kind of comment and it won’t be the last. Since he doesn’t actually address the issues in this portion of his rant, there’s no need for further response from me.

Bellisario continued:

It is unfortunate but I do not have the time to keep engaging with bloggers like himself because he will just lead you around in circular arguments, which is another favorite tactic of his. He figures if he writes enough nonsense that he will wear his opponent down and then he can claim victory. Well he has successfully worn me down, and yet once again he has not proven that the Catholic church is divided on the issue of contraception when it comes to “official” Church teaching. He keeps saying that he doens’t intend to do so, yet what is his point? It is to try and prove that the Catholic Church is not unified in its teaching regarding contraception.

As noted above, this is Bellisario’s constant retreat: the straw man. Sometimes, I’m not sure that Bellisario knows it is a straw man, but after it has been pointed out and he still repeats the same false characterizations you have to figure he’s realized he cannot defeat the argument presented, so he’s off to try to argue against something else.

For my actual point, see above.

Bellisario concluded:

He is trying to argue this from an untenable positions, because he refuses to acknowledge “official” Catholic teaching in favor of individual opinions. That is why i had to emphasize that there is a “official” Church teaching that all Catholics are obliged to follow. this would hold even if the teaching was not infallible. Turetin also does not understand this either. He refuses to acknowledge that individual bishops have no bearing on the “official” Church teaching, and so Catholics who follow the “official” Church teaching are not divided. The two unfortunately are synonymous to the pitiful “Reformed” apologist. I will tear myself away from this and now focus on the Catholic doctrine regarding human sexuality, and more specifically contraception. I am now working on a response to Kelly, who stopped by my blog and sided with me on part of my post against TF, yet challenged me on whether or not the Church has infallibly defined this teaching on human sexuality. My argument will be that is is infallibly defined. Thanks for reading.

As noted above, this is just a response to Bellisario’s straw man. He complains about a lack of time. One solution would be for him to spend less of his time on straw men.


Bellisario vs Portuguese Bishops – An Audio/Video Response

April 1, 2009

Bellisario has tried to respond to my previous post (link to Bellisario, link to my previous post). I now respond by video (just audio, but with a mostly unrelated slideshow on top of it). This video discusses the fact that Catholicism cannot provide unity on issues like contraception. We sometimes hear claims that Catholicism’s magisterium is needed to provide doctrinal and moral unity and certainty, but the facts belie this erroneous conclusion. The organizational unity of Rome may lead to doctrinal unity on some issues, but it does not on the contraception issue: one of the pet issues in Romanist apologetics today.



Contrasting Views on Contraceptive Devices

March 31, 2009

Although some people (mostly conservative Romanists) would like you to think that the Roman Catholic Church has only one view on contraceptives, the issue is actually one on which there is a degree of disagreement, as illustrated in the following two articles:

On the “pro” side, Manuel Clemente, Bishop of Porto (link to article).

“Speaking to journalists, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Porto Manuel Clemente said condoms in such cases are ‘not only recommendable, they can be ethically obligatory.'”


On the “con” side, Matthew Bellisario, editor of the “Catholic Champion” web site (link to article)

“Well how does this genius think that AIDS is spread? Does MR Juppe know that it spreads by having sex, and that condoms promote sexual intercourse among people in Africa that have AIDS? Condoms are not 100% effective and the disease is primarily spread by sexual intercourse. Wow, I just wonder how someone like this clown becomes a Prime Minister in any country outside of Wonderland.”


Obviously, Mr. Bellisario is not making his comment directly to Bishop Clemente, and perhaps he’d be embarrassed to call one of the bishops of his church a “clown” – though he does not hesitate to law on the compliments when it comes to the former prime minister. But leaving aside the bombastic nature of Bellisario’s remarks, what we see from this comparison of views is that the typical Romanist apologetic argument that we need Rome to give us unity on issues like contraception (which are not explicitly addressed in Scripture) is wrong as a matter of fact: although Rome provides organizational unity, that organizational unity masks great doctrinal and moral disunity.


Contraception Excursion

August 2, 2008

Matthew Bellisario has posted a blog entry responding to Gene Bridge’s comments on a tangential aspect of the on-going Sola Scriptura debate (link to debate) (link to Gene’s comments – first commentsecond comment) (link to MB’s Response – caution: large purported image of Jesus at top of site: a fact that will probably be of note only to my more Puritanically inclined readers). (UPDATE: Incidentally, welcome to those visiting via Mr. Greco’s link … you may be particularly interested in the sidebar debate taking place in this post’s comment box.)

The comment that my friend Gene Bridges made, which provoked Matthew Bellisario was, as stated by MB: “He says that Catholicism does not condemn contraception, but only distinguishes between natural and artificial contraception.”

In support of Gene’s comment, I submit the following evidence: “The second area which His Holiness would stress is that of promotion. He repeats his encouragement and gratitude to all those who work for the promotion of natural family planning, whether directly with couples, or in medical and social endeavors.” and “It is important that public authorities and international bodies, medical personnel and social workers, marriage counsellors and educators should recognize the high positive values that are to be found in the natural methods, in which the dignity of the human person is fostered: a knowledge and understanding of fertility help to assure personal autonomy by liberating couples from artificial means, while leading them to a degree of sexual self-mastery which is in direct contrast with the permissiveness and promiscuity that today constitute grave social problems to be solved.” (source – note that this is from the official Vatican website)

The comments above are part of a message from pope Paul VI (sent by Cardinal Villot to Cardinal Cooke on May 24, 1978). If that evidence does not demonstrate exactly what Gene Bridges was saying, I don’t know what would.

Nevertheless, let’s examine Bellisario’s rather interesting counter-argument.

1) He quotes this definition: “Contraception is “any action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act [sexual intercourse], or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” (Humanae Vitae 14).”

2) He argues that “Those using what the Church considers to be natural is not really contraception at all. In fact even if one follows the NFP [Natural Family Planning] it is never 100% and therefore the person is not acting in a way as to eliminate the pro creative [sic] from the act itself.”

3) He ignores that even the use of barrier and chemical methods have a less than 100% success rate in preventing procreation.

In other words, if one ignores the plainest and simplest meaning of “contraception” (i.e. a practice that limits or avoids conceiving children – aka pre-conception birth control), in favor of a meaning that requires that the act have an 100% success rate, one can avoid distinguishing between NFP and artificial contraception – but at the cost of permitting most forms of contraception, including forms (such as the use of certain latex products) that everyone knows Catholicism opposes.

So, when one evaluates MB’s accusation, “This Gene Bridges hasn’t a clue as to what in the world he is talking about, nor what The Catholic Church teaches,” one may find oneself arriving at a very different conclusion from that of Mr. Bellisario.


N.B.I have intentionally avoided discussing the issues raised in the debate regarding the significance (or not) of this matter to the topic of Sola Scriptura.

UPDATE: August 3, 2008 – MB has provided a second post (link – same 2nd commandment warning as above) in which he continues to refuse to let Gene Bridges’ statement have any meaning. Apparently, Gene Bridges is not allowed (in MB’s world) to disagree with MB’s church over what constitutes “contraception.” Why is this not just impolite but absurd?

Maybe an analogy would be helpful:

Suppose that Gene’s church claimed to be against gambling, but suppose that they actually permitted betting on horse races. Someone would be within their rights to say that Gene’s church was actually only against certain kinds of gambling. If Gene replied that his church defined gambling as betting on cards, and that consequently the critic has no idea what they are talking about, we’d laugh him out of town.

The same goes here. MB’s church defines contraception (according to MB) in a way that excludes certain kinds of things that actually prevent conception. The fact that MB’s church supposedly defines contraception only to include things that they prohibit is a laughable defense to the natural vs. artificial critique. In fact, Natural Family Planning (NFP) is often used expressly to engage in sexual intercourse without producing conception. That’s a contraceptive practice, broadly defined – just as betting on horses is gambling, broadly defined.

MB’s response that “The prior post I that put up explains what the Church teaches as a definition of contraception … NFP does not fall into that category,” is exactly as convincing as Gene’s hypothetical response that “My previous comment explains what my church teaches as a definition of gambling … betting on horses does not fall into that category,” would be: not at all. If Gene in that hypothetical example then tacked on insults about the critic not knowing what he was talking about, or the like, we’d say he wasn’t just absurd, but rude too.

Of course, the most absurd aspect of the whole discussion about contraception is the fact that MB’s church is plainly wrong. If there is anything wrong with contraception (and there is no need to debate that here or at all), it has nothing to do with how that contraception is accomplished (whether by spilling it on the ground, using a piece of latex, or only having carnal knowledge of one’s wife when there is low “risk” of conception). There’s nothing inherently sinful about wearing latex, or particularly righteous about keeping track of fecundity with a calendar and thermometer.

In fact, if contraception is not an illicit goal, then arguably the technique of abstaining from that kind of physical intimacy for one to two weeks a month is wrong (because although contraception is not itself an illicit goal it may be an insufficient justification for withholding sexual relations within marriage), while wearing a contraceptive device would be acceptable in God’s eyes (since it would permit the continuity of sexual relations).

FURTHER UPDATE: August 3, 2008 – MB has posted yet a third post on this subject. (link – same warning as usual). MB still does not get that NFP is contraceptive behavior. He even makes the claim: “So now am I going to let these two define what is an act or is not considered to be an act by their own musings? I think not. NFP cannot be a form of contraception because there is no act causing it. There is nothing that keeps the sexual act from happening except for abstinence. In order for Bridges and Tf to be right they would have to prove that every couple not engaged in sexual intercourse would be considered to be engaging in a contraceptive act. This is complete nonsense.”

MB’s argument falls apart again, when one scrutinizes it logically:

1 (per MB): NFP consists of not engaging in carnal knowledge at certain times.
2 (per MB): Not engaging in carnal knowledge is not an act.
ergo: NFP is not an act, consequently NFP cannot be a contraceptive act.

At first glance, this might seem to have merit. How can not doing anything be an act? But if we apply it to an analogy, we can soon realize how foolish it is:

1 (analogy): Neglect consists in not feeding one’s children.
2 (analogy): Not feeding one’s children is not an act.
ergo: Neglect is not an act, and consequently cannot be an improper act.

I hope everyone realizes that such an argument is absurd.

But MB tags on a little something extra: he claims that, “In order for Bridges and Tf to be right they would have to prove that every couple not engaged in sexual intercourse would be considered to be engaging in a contraceptive act.”

On the other hand, however, that’s a bit like saying that to be right about the analogy one would have to prove that every family not engaged in feeding their children would be considered to be engaging in neglect. Both claims (both MB’s and that of the person in the analogy) are overblown.

All we have to show is what everybody with any brains already has figured out: people who are using NFP to avoid conceiving children are engaging in a contraceptive technique. The technique even has a name: the rhythm method.

In his pontificating, MB finally decides to expose his lack of familiarity with issues relating to contraception: “We can also see that TF still does not understand what NFP is either, after I have explained it in my earlier posts, because he says its failure rate is the same as the “withdrawal method?” What? Once again I am baffled here.”

But the bafflement is really not our fault. MB should do his research. Here’s a link providing an example of the statistics of failure rate for NFP/rhythm method (link). Here’s a link providing an example of the statistics on the failure rate of the withdrawal method (link). As you can see, the failure rate is about 20% in both cases. Of course, that’s the “in practice” failure rate, as opposed to the “perfectly performed” failure rate. One hopes that MB will read and learn.

MB even goes further and complains about GB and I supposedly being reticent to admit a mistake. MB’s a bit hasty in this regard. GB probably hasn’t even yet seen MB’s correction regarding the withdrawal method, and I did not adopt GB’s position. Apparently, MB is desperate for an example of an error, and so he’s trying to latch firmly on to this issue of the withdrawal method not being kosher among papists.

But before we close, let’s get back to that ridiculous logic that because NFP involves abstaining from sexual relations, therefore it cannot be considered a contraceptive technique. By that logic:

1. Fasting cannot be a meritorious act, since it is simply abstaining from eating.
2. Virginity cannot be a virtuous state, since it is simply abstaining from sexual intercourse.
3. Celibacy (i.e. what many mistake for chastity) … see (2).
4. Sobriety cannot be a virtuous lifestyle, since it is simply avoiding drunkenness.

In short, no patterns of negative behavior can be good, if no patterns of negative behavior can be bad. Of course, no good member of the church that is in communion with Benedict XVI can rightly deny the virtue of fasting, virginity, “chastity,” and sobriety, even though those are primarily negative activities: abstentions from various otherwise desired acts.

NFP (i.e. the rhythm method) is just another method of conception. It may be more natural than Onanism (spilling it on the ground – sometimes equated with the withdrawal method), but it is still an intentional act (of omission) aimed at preventing reproduction. A pattern of NFP behavior in which a couple engages in sexual relations at certain times rather than others in order to avoid conception, is plainly contraceptive behavior, just as eating a small amount of food every three hours can be a weight loss technique, and limiting yourself to one beer after dinner can be a sobriety technique.

YET FURTHER UPDATE: August 3, 2008 – Not able to get enough of this subject, MB has replied yet again (link – same warning regarding prominent violation of the 2nd commandment).

Now, having demonstrated his bafflement a number of different ways, MB demonstrates that he cannot address the actual arguments presented. Instead he states: “I guess every person now who is walking the face of the earth who is married and not having sex is engaged in a contraceptive act according to TF.”

That, of course, is not what I have said. NFP can be used to enhance fertility, just as it can be used to promote infertility. Couples who are not making love today in order to make love more productively tomorrow are obviously engaged in conceptive behavior, just as couples who are consciously forgoing lovemaking today to avoid conception are engaging in contraceptive activity.

NFP is to sexual activity as dieting is eating. Both are negative activities, designed to alter the consequences of the abstained-from activity in some way, as part of pattern of behavior.

Finally, MB crosses the line:

“We also see that they can make false statements like telling us the “withdrawal method” is approved by the Catholic Church, and then once they realize they are wrong the [sic] try and [sic] sidestep the issue. Unbelievable here folks. But this is par for the course when dealing with these guys. Truth has no place in their thinking.”

a) Truth has no place in their thinking? That’s an outrageous statement, even for Bellisario. In fact, Bellisario hasn’t even waited to hear Gene’s response! Talk about not caring about the truth: Bellisario is rushing to accuse Gene of not caring about the truth without waiting to see Gene’s response to the claim that Gene made a mistake.

b) Par for the course when dealing with these guys? More rhetorical banter.

c) They try to sidestep the issue? It would be more accurate to say that MB has been trying to dodge the issue from square one: the issue being Catholicism’s irrational distinction between contraception using the rhythm method and other forms of contraception. Whether they also accept the withdrawal method is a moot point, except for Bellisario’s urgent quest to find some mistake (not matter how small) in my friend Gene’s statement.

d) “They” can make false statements? Even assuming that Bellisario could establish that Catholicism condemns the withdrawal method (not just by the ordinary, but by the extraordinary magisterium), how does Gene turn into “they”? Of course, we know how it turns into “they,” because it’s convenient for the rhetorical opponent-bashing that MB has decided to engage in.

Finally, MB wraps up his post with a link to try to bolster the invalid distinction between contraception and natural family planning.

And again, here’s another quotation from materials from the Vatican’s own web site, reinforcing Gene Bridge’s original comment:

“6. This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the publication by my predecessor Pope Paul VI of the Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae. The truth about human sexuality, and the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life and on responsible parenthood, must be presented in the light of the theological development which has followed that document, and in the light of the experience of couples who have faithfully followed this teaching. Many couples have experienced how natural family planning promotes mutual respect, encourages tenderness between husband and wife, and helps develop an authentic inner freedom (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2370; Humanae Vitae, 21). Their experience deserves to be shared, for it is the living confirmation of the truth which Humanae Vitae teaches. In contrast, there is a growing awareness of the serious harm caused to marital relationships by recourse to artificial contraception, which, because it inevitably thwarts the total self-giving implied in the conjugal act, at one and the same time destroys its procreative meaning and weakens its unitive significance (cf. Evangelium Vitae, 13).” (link to source – Official Vatican website)

Here’s another:

“Their humanizing character is all the more obvious from the fact that using the natural methods requires and strengthens the harmony of the married couple, it helps and confirms the rediscovery of the marvellous gift of parenthood, it involves respect for nature and demands the responsibility of the individuals. According to many authoritative opinions, they also foster more completely that human ecology which is the harmony between the demands of nature and personal behaviour.” (link to source – Official Vatican website)

UPDATE: August 4, 2008 – MB still continues to hope to deny that rhythmic contraception is contraception. (link – same warnings about a big picture that aims to portray the second person of the Trinity) It’s somewhat amusing, because MB rushes to call GB a liar (as noted above). Now, when GB starts to explain himself, MB continues to suggest the GB is just making stuff up. I think it is apparent who is more familiar with the topic, between the two of them. MB claims that he has proved that “the Church” has not endorsed the withdrawal method. Of course, a more carefully reading of Gene’s comments is that Gene has asserted that there is no infallible condemnation of the withdrawal method. As far as I can see from MB’s 5 posts (so far) on the subject, MB has been unable to point to any infallible condemnation of the withdrawal method.

MB points to individual statements of individual popes, but while there is a sense in which such teachings are the teachings of the Church, they are not normally considered “infallible,” a fact that MB very well knows.

Furthermore, while MB claims that the very general remarks that he quotes “would include the ‘withdrawal method’,” they certainly don’t specify that method. Furthermore, MB simply fails to address GB’s point that those comments have been interpreted as referring to acts involving mechanical and chemical intervention.

MB even fails to see such an interpretation popping out at him from a quotation be pulls down from the Official Vatican web site: “Their experience deserves to be shared, for it is the living confirmation of the truth which Humanae Vitae teaches. In contrast, there is a growing awareness of the serious harm caused to marital relationships by recourse to artificial contraception, which, because it inevitably thwarts the total self-giving implied in the conjugal act, at one and the same time destroys its procreative meaning and weakens its unitive significance.” (emphasis added for those who have trouble reading)

And, of course, as noted above – this is all just a minor tangent as far as I am concerned. Everyone sees that Catholicism promotes rhythmic contraception, whether or not anyone wants to argue about their promotion of other kinds of non-artificial contraception.

Additionally, MB provides an article that attempts to dissect the various intentions in rhythmic contraception as distinct from other kinds of contraception. The clarity of the article leaves something to be desired. But it reduces to this:

1. There is an intention to do the act (drink an elixir or abstain from sex); and
2. There is an intention for the act (to avoid conceiving children).

The problem with the attempt to divide these intentions (and it is not an invalid distinction), is that the condemnation of other forms of contraception than the rhythm method must incorporate the type (2) intention, while to permit rhythmic contraception, one must ignore type (2) intention.

In other words, there is nothing sinful about intending to wear latex or drink a draught of chemicals. There’s nothing intrinsically evil about latex or progesterone (or whatever). There’s nothing intrinsically evil about putting on one or drinking the other. If anything makes their use wrong, it is the type (2) intention: the intention that the act is aimed: avoiding conception.

But the same is true of rhythmic contraception. The acts of measuring body temperature and mucosal quality, and scheduling intercourse are not intrinsically evil, but (assuming that contraception is an illicit end) the use to which scheduling is put can be wrong.

In other words, the attempt to assert that it is ambiguity in “intent” that leads to a distinction between rhythmic and other kinds of contraception is not a legitimate attempt. It fails, as has been demonstrated.

UPDATE: August 4, 2008 – Mr. Bellisario has not yet had enough of the topic of contraception. Although he offers no defense of the faulty logic, he throws around a few insults and links to yet another article that he thinks proves that NFP is not contraception. Ironically, even the abstract of the article distinguishes between “artificial” contraception and NFP. (link to Bellisario’s insult-riddled post – with the same warning as above, that one will be exposed to an enormous attempted portrayal of my Lord and Savior, the Alpha and Omega).

There is some sense in which the article that MB links to, attempts to address the objection that rhythmic contraception is just another form of contraception. It doesn’t do so by the ipse dixit approach (“we just define contraception thus and so”), but by distinguishing the moral basis.

The core of the article’s argument is this:

There is, strictly speaking, no such thing as moving the sexual act from one time to another time. Suppose one wants to say the act is “moved” from a fertile Monday to an infertile Friday. But one cannot say this. A human act is something that is unrepeatably defined temporally. A sexual act on Monday and a sexual act on Friday are two different acts. The act of abstaining from the sexual act on Monday and of engaging in a sexual act on Friday is not an act of transferring the sexual act from Monday to Friday, because it is a logical impossibility, strictly speaking, to transfer a specific act. The unrepeatable Monday-sexual-act cannot be moved to Friday any more than one can move the Monday itself to Friday.

This argument relies on the reader agreeing with the concept that a human act cannot be moved. In fact, such an expression is common. For example, one might say: “I will mow the lawn on Tuesday, instead of Monday this week, since Monday I will be too busy responding to articles linked by my esteemed colleague.”

We would all be comfortable with such an expression. In fact it is quite an ordinary way of speaking. There’s a certain poetry to saying that a specific act cannot be moved in time from one place to another, but – in fact – that is exactly what rescheduling is.

Furthermore, such rescheduling has moral significance. The law of the Sabbath provides a great example. As the reader may recall, labor is generally prohibited on the Sabbath. Consequently, it is necessary to move some labor from the Sabbath to another day. In the time of the wilderness journey, when the Sabbath was on Saturday, the people of Israel moved their food-gathering of Manna from Saturday to Friday, collecting twice as much as usual on Friday in preparation for the Sabbath (at least, those who were obedient did).

It is obvious that they are not transporting the act of gathering food through time in any mystical way, but simply rescheduling. Nevertheless, scheduling (and rescheduling) are real acts, and they do involve moving the action being scheduled from one time to another.

It may well be that “mowing the lawn on the Sabbath” and “mowing the lawn on Friday” are two “different acts” if one sophistically attempts to define the act to include the date of the act. Nevertheless, just as there is virtue in rescheduling the lawn mowing to Friday from the Sabbath (because avoiding work on the Sabbath is virtuous), there is evil in rescheduling sexual relations to avoid conceiving (if, in fact, contraception [trying to avoid conception] is an illicit end).

In short, we can see both from ordinary speech and the analogy to the Sabbath that the argument in favor of rhythmic contraception cannot be maintained on the grounds provided in the article by Alexander Pruss, to which MB linked.

UPDATE: August 5, 2008 – MB continues his campaign of accusations against my friend Gene, this time calling him a “plain liar” and an “obstacle to truth.” (link – usual caveats) He compares him to Bill Clinton and says that Gene “is nothing more than a ‘Slick Willy’.”

Ironically, MB himself in his eagerness to find fault in my friend Gene, makes a rather fundamental lexical fallacy (i.e. that if a word can mean what one wants it to mean, that therefore it meant what one wants it to mean). It’s the same fallacy we see time and time again in the form of eisegesis. It’s a bit more blatant here, since MB is seemingly unwilling to read Gene’s comments as part of a harmonious whole, hoping to set one of Gene’s comments against another of his comments. The viva voce of Gene is ignored in favor of an attempt to make Gene say something Gene didn’t mean.

Interestingly, MB’s main basis for calling Gene a liar is that Gene hasn’t proved Gene’s assertion that Rome is not monolithic on the issue in question. I have to say, I rarely see this kind of impatient rush to accusation. MB doesn’t even ask nicely, he demands. I suspect that Gene may be waiting patiently to see how much mud MB will throw and how extreme his assertions will get, before revealing his sources. In fact, having taken a peek around the Internet, I think I may be able to see where Gene is going with this.

Regardless, what is interesting is that MB has gotten so caught up in mocking and accusing (though his accusations have shifted) that he has lost sight of the bottom line.

*** end of update ***

Bottom Line: Rhythmic contraception (NFP applied to avoid conception) is a type of contraception, and (seemingly) the only kind currently widely accepted in Catholicism. It is considered “natural” and the other kinds are “artificial” or unnatural. That’s the terminology Rome has adopted, and Gene got in trouble with MB for repeating. I suggest MB take it up with his bishop rather than picking on my friend Gene (who, by the way, is quite capable of defending himself, if one is willing to wait 24 hours … check out the combox of this post).

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