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.

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, April 27, 2004

Donatism and Contraception, Part One
Well, here is a final draft of an earlier question. The next part will address the contraception part of the puzzle. Any comments please leave them here.
Dear Father:
With all the priests’ Scandals, etc., and Bishop O’Brien convicted of a felony, the first in U.S. History, Why doesn’t our Religion lift the Ban on contraception and let thousands of married Catholics stop lying about their marriages? Teach to follow sexuality outside of marriage, and stop teenagers from getting pregnant, but let legally married couples have their children and the number they can and will take care of. Look at all the starving people in the world.
Received unsigned.

In order to address your question adequately, there are two matters to consider. First, we need to understand how the teaching office of the Church is present and is exercised. Second, we need to examine not only the Church’s teaching concerning contraception but also the nature of human sexuality in general. Given the relative complexity of these two issues, I want to deal with each one separately. This issue we will examine the teaching office and next issue will have an examination of the moral issues involved.

In the fourth century, an issue arose concerning the validity of sacraments administered by bishops and priests who had surrendered sacred books and various liturgical articles to the Romans during a time of persecution. Eventually a schism arose between those who believed that the sacraments of these lapsed clergy were invalid, i.e. not real sacraments, and the Church. It seems to me that your question follows a similar line of logic. You seem to assume that the teaching authority and the truth value of the Church’s teaching rests upon the impeccability of those who hand on the Church’s teaching. This is not the case.

From the beginning, God has desired that man should come to know, to love, and to serve Him, and by extension one’s neighbors. Because of the gifts with which God endows mankind, it is possible for man to know that God exists. But, if man truly wants to know the inner heart of God, then God will have to show that inner depth to him. God’s manifold perfection renders it impossible to know His essence by merely human means. It requires Revelation.

This revelation has proceeded in stages that lead to the coming of Jesus Christ. In Christ, the Revelation of God is made fully and definitively revealed to all peoples. As the Gospel of Saint John puts it, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life (John 3:16).” This revelation therefore is not only informative, it is life-giving. It serves as the means of salvation. But here is where we encounter a problem. How does anyone come to know Jesus Christ? After all, we live 2000 years after the events in question. The gulf in time, not to mention space, between now and then, yawns menacingly, threatening to engulf us in the mere succession of days intervening. How can we come to know Christ and through Him find salvation? The means of receiving the revelation of Christ is the Church.

There are so many images for the Church out there in people’s minds and perceptions, but the one we need here is one not often considered, the Church as Mother of the Living. A good mother makes sure that her children are fed and healthy. A good mother makes certain that her children are well educated and well formed. Since her foundation by Christ, she has remained at His side to carry within herself the fullness of Revelation Through the sacraments, the presence of Christ in the world has been maintained. She continues to present Christ through the Sacred Scriptures which she has both gathered together and zealously preserved and through the Sacred Tradition which represents those things which the Apostles preached and taught but that are not preserved in the Sacred Scriptures. But again, we encounter a problem. How can we know what the Church hands on actually constitutes the teaching of Christ? The definitive revelation of Christ demands a definitive arbiter. The Church not only receives the revelation so that it can be transmitted to later generations, but also possesses the agency to preserve it from error or distortion. That agent is the Magisterium.

If the teaching of the Church were likened to meat, then the Magisterium would be the salt preserving that meat from spoilage. When Christ established the Twelve Apostles as the core of the fledgling Church, he gave them several mandates and capacities. For example, He commissioned them to give the sacramental life to those who believed in Him (cf. Matthew 28:19-20, Luke 22:19). He also gave them the mandate to teach in His name so that He can continue to shepherd His people (Matthew 10:40, John 13:20). As the Church continued to grow in the days after Easter, the Apostles would appoint and ordain other men to continue in this role for the new local churches they established. And that is how it continues today.

The Magisterium, the bishops of the Church in union with our Holy Father, the Pope, continues to teach infallibly on matters of faith and morals, preserving the great gift the Church has received not because they are particularly gifted, intelligent, or holy. The Magisterium can teach and guide us because of a particular charism they receive. Ultimately, it is the Holy Spirt who guides and teaches the Church through these chosen men.

So to answer your question bluntly, the Church cannot lift the ban on contraception because it is part of Revelation, or at least, closely related to it. The Church couldn’t lift the ban on contraception any more than she could change her tune and declare Christ is not God. But you’ll have to tune in next week to find out why that is.