Saturday, July 7, 2012

7) The Morality of Birth Control - Commonalities

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There are a few teachings about birth control consistently maintained by the fathers of the Church, the contemporary Catholic Church, and the contemporary Eastern Orthodox Church: 1) Procreation is a good and essential purpose of married life. 2) There are times for avoiding conception. 3) Abortion by any means is an immoral method of birth control. For the fathers of the Church, the only moral means of birth control is total abstinence. Current Catholic teaching would also permit periodic abstinence. The Orthodox are less clear, but, in addition to periodic abstinence and total abstinence, they would overwhelmingly also permit non-abortifacient contraception.

1) Those who would enter into Christian marriage must never do so with an attitude completely closed to having children nor indeed without the hope of having children. Without some desire for children in a marriage, there is arguably no reason to marry. Loving each other is enough, but marital love necessarily includes the desire for children.

2) Every month in the life of a marriage between the physically healthy and sufficiently young presents an opportunity for conceiving a child, if one has not already been conceived. The couple, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and their spiritual fathers or mothers, must prayerfully and reasonably discern whether they are called to seek the fulfillment of that opportunity each time it is given. In making this determination according to the dictates of their consciences, they must seek to live in the balance between generosity and responsibility.
One recognized method of avoiding conception for
the unmarried is to wear standard issue BCGs. 

While the married should sometimes avoid conception, the unmarried should always avoid conception. The moral teaching of the Church has always required the unmarried and the celibate to practice the most effective form of birth control - complete continence.

3) No one should ever resort to an abortion regardless of the difficulty of the situation, whether they are married or unmarried, whether they are rich or poor. If a conception has taken place, the question about whether or not it was God’s will to conceive a child has already been answered. God creates no children that he does not love and want to live. It is therefore the couple’s moral responsibility, after conception has taken place, to love and provide for the newly conceived person even as Christ has first loved them.


bill bannon said...

The truly hard cases are most often in China where any subsequent children to the first one can be coercively aborted, the woman beaten, the couple fined three times their income, the couple jailed if a third child is conceived.
We are asking such Catholics in China to obey a teaching whose diachronic consensus is problematic at best as to being universal ordinary magisterium after major theologians dissented ( Rahner and Haring) and Bishops from diverse places signalled doubt. Both NFP and pills etc. do not alleviate high, decades long anxiety for a couple. Sterilization alone would relieve them. Pius XI wrote against such in these words in Casti Connubii in 1930: " 71. Furthermore, Christian doctrine establishes, and the light of human reason makes it most clear, that private individuals have no other power over the members of their bodies than that which pertains to their natural ends; and they are not free to destroy or mutilate their members, or in any other way render themselves unfit for their natural functions, except when no other provision can be made for the good of the whole body."
However. Pius XI did not reveal in that passage that starting with a bull of Pope Sixtus V in 1585, the castrati were brought into the papal territory churches (extensive for centuries) and this perdured with the proximate cooperation of 29 Popes til 1878 when Pope Leo XIII dissented and halted it by a letter....which anyone of the 29 could have done ( that's why their cooperation was proximate). The practice was halted in opera 78 years earlier because of its coercive nature ( it only works on boys c9-12 years old. Two elements were present: power to alter the generative members; coercion of a child largely by their fathers in the hopes of a well paying job. None of us now countenances the coercion.
But 29 Popes also saw the altering of that member as nothing out of the ordinary.
Go to new advent and put castrati in the catholic encyclopedia search engine. Nothing comes up. Search papal article with no mention of 300 years of castrati.
The Chinese couple deserve hard work by Rome in this area. How do they obey the Holy Spirit which tells many of them not to abstain lest satan enter their marriage ( I Cor.7:5) and simultaneously obey a brutal government and not lead a life in which the woman becomes a tomb for future children.

John R.P. Russell said...

They should not obey the government in this.

bill bannon said...

Then they will be forcibly aborted and fined into poverty if not beaten and jailed. Their entire life will be anxiety.

John R.P. Russell said...

I cannot judge anyone, of course. For myself, if my government brutally forced me to limit births, my entire life would be anxious, regardless of how I decided to respond to that horrible reality. Your "solution" of sterilization would not lessen my anxiety, both because I believe sterilization is morally wrong and so I would believe myself to be guilty of sin and because sterilization has a failure rate just as NFP does.

John R.P. Russell said...

Just as abstinence will let Satan enter a marriage in certain cases, sterilization will let him in by another door.

bill bannon said...

Minute failure rate if one person is sterilized. If both are sterilized in a radical situation like China ( 16% of the world's people are there), it's hard to believe there is any failure rate.
One Pope has opposed surgical sterilization. Seven immediately subsequent Popes have repeated him...but that is de rigeur in Catholicism. There were 265 Popes in history with 10 that we know of making any comment on birth control. Since it was in the decretals since medieval times, all Popes gave perfunctory obedience to it. The decretals also affirmed the slave status of a child born to a slave mother ( see Aquinas ST suppl. on marriage, then on marriage of a slave where he gives the decretal cites). Much in Catholicism is perfunctory so all Popes til modern times affirmed via the decretals that contraception was bad and the slavery of a child born to a slave mother was a slave. John Noonan Jr. gives the horrible example in c.1800 of a religious order, the Sulpicians, selling a slave mother with one of her children but selling her other child separately and away from the mother. None of the eight seemingly anti slavery bulls of eight Popes overrode the exceptions that justified slavery in the canons and in the universities: born to a slave mother; captured in war; self sale; punishment. No anti slavery Pope interdicted Portugal probably for that reason...she was buying slaves captured in African wars.
Interest on a loan was forbidden up til 1830 when dioceses asked the Vatican if Catholics could take moderate interest. Under Pius VIII an answer ( not forthcoming in 1822) finally went out...."non esse inquietandum"...those taking interest are not to be disturbed.
Saints had denounced whole towns for doing so in the it was permitted in virtually the same terms Calvin had permitted it in 1545. Our current opposition to all slavery is the 18th century position of the Quakers. We learn from the outside world without admitting it in our documents.

John R.P. Russell said...

My moral beliefs are not shaped primarily by papal statements or papal behaviors.

bill bannon said...


The Covert Farmer said...

From the Orthodox Church by Timothy/Kalistos Ware (via Orthodox Christianity, Marriage & Contraception: Understanding the Mystery of Marriage and the Problem of Contraception from within the Orthodox Christian Dogmatic Tradition by Anthony Stehlin)

1963 Version
“Artificial methods of contraception are forbidden in the Orthodox Church”

1984 Version
“The use of contraceptives and other devices for birth control is on the whole strongly discouraged in the Orthodox Church. Some bishops and theologians altogether condemn the employment of such methods. Others, however, have recently begun to adopt a less strict position, and urge that the question is best left to the discretion of each individual couple, in consultation with the spiritual father”

1993 Version
“Concerning contraceptives and other forms of birth control, differing opinions exist within the Orthodox Church. In the past birth control was in general strongly condemned, but today a less strict view is coming to prevail, not only in the west but in traditional Orthodox countries. Many Orthodox theologians and spiritual fathers consider that the responsible use of contraception within marriage is not in itself sinful. In their view, the question of how many children a couple should have, and at what intervals, is best decided by the partners themselves, according to the guidance of their own consciences”

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