Apologize and Don't Be Sorry!

A site dedicated to thinking through the common objections to the Catholic Faith as well as questions of a general religious nature.

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Location: Prague, Oklahoma, United States

Just your basic 21st century priest trying to bring the Gospel to everyone who will give it a fair hearing.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Donatism and Contraception, Part Two
This is the second part of an answer to a question posed for the column. I felt the need to separate the two issues and this article deals with contraception and the nature of marriage. See below for the original question.

Last time, we considered the way the Church teaches. Through the Holy Spirit, Christ continues to shepherd His people in the person of the Pope and the Bishops who are in union with him. In spite of personal failings the bishops might possess, the Church can teach infallibly and in a binding fashion because the Holy Spirit confirms the validity of these teachings. After all, Jesus didn't say, "He who hears you, hears me if and only if you are a good boy." Rather, to the Apostles and to their successors, Christ has given the power to bind and loose, not only in terms of sins or Church administration, but also, in matters of faith and morals. At the same time, it is important to note that the Bishops, and all Catholics, must strive to live in accordance with the Church's moral teachings. While our witness and our fidelity don't make the teaching true, it can make them more credible.

Many find the Church's teaching on contraception confusing. The reason stems from starting at the wrong end of the argument. All moral teaching of the Church comes from a recognition of the nature of the thing in question. So, for example, the Church's consistent insistence of the grave evil of abortion comes from the recognition of the value of the human person and his creation in the image and likeness of God. As a moral teaching, the logic of contraception resides in the nature of marriage and human sexuality.

Throughout the Sacred Scripture, marriage plays a pivotal role in God's advancement of His plan of salvation. In Genesis 1:27, God blesses man and imposes the first moral demand upon him, Be fruitful and multiply. In short, be like God who gives life and provides for those He has created. In Genesis 2:23-24, we find marriage introduced as the sign of the unity of man and woman. It is as though the man, Adam, only comes to understand himself when he stands and looks into the face of the woman, Eve. Marriage then becomes the context for the building of the people of Israel. The patriarchs and the great figures of salvation history exercise their roles first on the stage of the human family. We can also find a protection of marriage and women in particular in the listing of the Ten Commandments as they are listed in the Book of Deuteronomy. In this listing, the injunction against coveting another's wife is separated from the coveting of another's spouse. In the prophets, we find many references to marriage as the symbol for the faithfulness Israel should show to God or how Israel has failed in its obedience and therefore has played the harlot against God. So, it should be clear that marriage is a significant reality in the Old Testament.

This is not to say that what we would think of as marriage is completely present either. When you look through the Old Testament, you can find some problems. First, the presence of polygamy worked against the dignity of women. Second, ritual temple prostitution became a problem for Israel as it was regularly practiced by the nations surrounding them. Third, the presence of divorce suggested that this bond was for right now but not necessarily for the long haul.

Christ elevates marriage to the nature of a sacrament in the Gospels. Along with the injunction against divorce as given in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:31-32), we can point to the encounter with the Pharisees found in Matthew 19:1-9. In this, the Church sees Christ elevating the practice of the Old Testament to its definitive form. Also, it is of interest that Christ frequently compares Himself to the bridegroom waiting to wed to His bride. In St. John's Gospel, this finds expression upon the Cross, when Jesus cries out, "It is finished." A better translation for the Greek word, tetelestai, would be "it is consummated" or "it is accomplished."

Moving to the New Testament, St. Paul makes great use of the sacrament of Marriage as the sign of Christ's union with the Church. In Ephesians 5:31-32, Paul says that marriage is a great mystery because it refers to Christ and the Church. What makes this quote most illuminating is that St. Paul goes all the way back to Genesis to set this notion in place. As Christ is united to the Church, this is what ultimately marriage was made for. Otherwise, when St. Paul brings up marriage, it generally concerns questions of how does Christian couples live together as Christians.

Marriage then can be seen to encompass three goods: permanence, fidelity, and fruitfulness. Permanence means that when one enters into marriage, they are there to remain for the long haul. Fidelity means that no other person will intrude upon this gift of self that the couple has made. Fruitfulness means that the couple will participate in the work of creation that God has entrusted to the human family. When a couple gets married, their vows reflect each of these goods and if the couple intends not to fulfill that good, it can invalidate the bond.

This brings us to consider the nature of human sexuality. Human sexuality has two purposes: to bond the couple and to produce offspring. In a powerful way, sexuality makes manifest the promises and goods that the couple promised to each other in marriage. By the sacramental bond, this gift of self made through the consent, the couple is capacititated to have sexual relations. Without the bond, sex is as invalid a reality as would Holy Communion received at a Mass celebrated by a layman. In marriage, genital sexual expressions find their summit and their goal.

Now we can consider what the injunction against contraception really drives at. Contraception damages the nature of marital self-giving, not just in the bedroom but in all aspects of the marriage. Consider how the onus of using contraception falls on only one partner, usually the wife. Furthermore, in chemical contraception, we see the good of fruitfulness treated as though it were a disease. When else do you take a pill or wear a medicine patch except when you are sick? Barrier methods are concrete signs of the division between the couple. Imagine a romantic scene between a husband and wife and just as they are starting to kiss, he says, "Oh, wait, let me put on my barrier." In either case, that doesn't sound like a gift of self.

In addition, one must not overlook the connection between contraception and abortion. In the Supreme Court case Doe v. Bolton, makes reference to the fact that abortion must remain legal in case of contraceptive failure. In the pill and the patch, both can cause a spontaneous abortion by preventing the implantation of the embyro. While some researchers might claim that breakthrough pregnancy is uncommon, one child lost is too many.

The Church teaches that every act of sexual intercourse must be open to the gift of life as God sees fit to bestow it. The married couple must learn to respect the gift of children and to welcome them into the home. The Church does recognize that, for grave reasons, a couple can delay when they will have children, but, the couple must use moral means to effect this spacing. This method is called Natural Family Planning and doesn't frustrate fruitfulness. It fulfills it because with contraception there is a "no" being stated. NFP can actually assist couples in having children and fulfilling the duties and responsibilities of marriage.

In closing, I find your thought ironic that couple somehow have to lie about their marriage when they use contraceptives. In truth, the marriage is in danger of becoming a lie once contraceptives are brought into play.

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