A “Lambeth Moment” for the Synod

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In 1920, the Anglican Church’s Lambeth Conference solidly condemned the use of contraceptives for whatever motives. Ten years later, a new Lambeth Conference gave a restricted approval in Resolution 15 to the use of contraceptives – by married people only, and only for the most serious morally upright motives, not “from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience.”

That same year the Anglican Bishop of Oxford, Dr. Charles Gore, wrote a carefully argued pamphlet refuting the reasoning and the conclusions of Resolution 15. The 1930 Lambeth Conference was a moment of truth for the Church of England, and Dr. Gore was terribly worried that this conference had yielded to the spirit of the world in its half-hearted reversal of the Church’s constant tradition on contraception. His argument is based upon Tradition more than natural law, and he is very appreciative of the Roman Catholic fidelity to the Tradition on this moral teaching.

Dr. Gore realistically read the context within which this acceptance of birth prevention by a major religious communion, no matter how limited in intent, has to be viewed. Already in that time, he and others clearly saw the threat of birth control to marriage itself and to the very existence of civilization. He refers to the threat of what he calls the unbridled “tide of sensualism” in western societies, which can only be made worse by this collapse of moral opposition to one of the key threats to our civilization.

Likewise he refers several times to the threat of national suicide or race-suicide, as he calls it, thus anticipating the demographic suicide that St. John Paul II would later recognize – and is underway in our time. He also anticipates the harm that all forms of contraception do to women, and this was long before the Pill and other intrusive means promoted today by pharmaceutical giants and the medical profession.

But most interesting is the fact that this same Lambeth Conference also dealt with allowing the divorced and remarried to receive Communion, and did so in much the same language we are now hearing from some bishops and theologians at the ongoing Extraordinary Synod on the Family. In Lambeth’s Resolution 11, the wording is interesting: “The Conference believes that it is with this ideal in view that the Church must deal with questions of divorce and with whatever threatens the security of women and the stability of the home.”

Note the word “ideal,” which is popping up today in some reports about the Synod, and the ideal is the indissolubility of marriage. In a second paragraph of Resolution 11, we read: “Where an innocent person has remarried under civil sanction and desires to receive the Holy Communion, it recommends that the case should be referred for consideration to the bishop, subject to provincial regulations.”

    Bishop Gore (1853-1932)

That is exactly what some participants at the Synod are suggesting today as an alternative to the annulment process, including a couple of very highly placed Cardinals. It should be a warning that we are in dangerous waters when Catholic bishops and cardinals in 2014 start speaking the exact words of Anglican clerics and laity at Lambeth in 1930. Those well-intentioned solutions ended in disaster for Anglicans.

But it also should be a warning that the Anglicans dealt with this latter problem of Communion for the divorced and remarried along side the problem of contraception. Something similar may well be underway at the present Synod. While one of the main subjects seems to be pastoral charity toward the divorced and remarried, there are clearly those who want to reopen the “pastoral” issue related to contraception as well. Cardinal Kasper, for all his dancing around the subject, clearly is of this mindset as is his former assistant, Bishop Bonny of Antwerp, along with members of the German and other European episcopates.

Just as the declaration of Lambeth in 1920 did not end the contraception issue for the dissenters who came back and won the day in 1930, so the dissenters from Humanae Vitae and the constant teaching of the Church on contraception have for years been strategically quiet. They are now coming back to try to change the teaching. They have never honestly accepted the constant teaching of the Church on “birth prevention” as irreformable and infallibly taught – and powerfully confirmed by Pius XI, Pius XII, Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and now Francis. Indeed, many of these dissenters think no moral teaching can be taught infallibly.

And now they’re back: very outspoken and very central in the Synod.

This has been abundantly clear in the writings of men like Bishop Bonny and now in an article by a German theologian, Eberhard Schockenhoff, who has supported the infamous and revolutionary declaration called Church 2011: A necessary departure. The departure is from Church doctrine and discipline, including, surprise, its teaching on divorce and same sex marriage.

In a recent article, Schockenhoff, after denigrating the Church’s reliance on natural law for the issue of contraception, summarily asserts, “the Church’s teaching on artificial birth control has prevented people from receiving the positive messages the Gospel has to give about every human being’s vocation to love.” He then concludes, “Failure to deal with problems that remain unresolved [emphasis added] on a doctrinal level, will simply lead to the Church’s teaching being seen as rigid and lacking in credibility.”

The “unresolved” doctrinal problem, make no mistake, is “the Church’s teaching” on things like artificial birth control, and divorce and remarriage. These dissenters are astoundingly blind to what Dr. Gore saw eighty-four years ago: that contraception profoundly undermines marriage and causes demographic suicide.

And it’s before their very eyes in Europe today!

This is a moment of truth for the Synod of 2014. Let’s hope it will not end for the participants as in that Bridge on the River Kwai moment when Colonel Nicholson despairingly asks, “What have I done?”

Fr. Mark A. Pilon, a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, received a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from Santa Croce University in Rome. He is a former Chair of Systematic Theology at Mount St. Mary Seminary, a former contributing editor of Triumph magazine, and a retired and visiting professor at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College. He writes regularly at littlemoretracts.wordpress.com. 
© 2013 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to:  info@frinstitute.org
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Fr. Mark A. Pilon

Fr. Mark A. Pilon

Fr. Mark A. Pilon, a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, VA, received a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from Santa Croce University in Rome. He is a former Chair of Systematic Theology at Mount St. Mary's Seminary, and a retired and visiting professor at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College. He writes regularly at littlemoretracts.wordpress.com.

  • Carlos

    Kasper, Schockenhoff, Bruno Forte … One could not make up better names for this. Fr. Pilon writes “And it’s before their very eyes in Europe today!” and I add: they are not blind, they just refuse to see. When they are done trying to destroy the Church (in vain,) should they need employment the American Association of Baseball Umpires surely could offer them a gig or two.

  • DXM

    This is all so deeply upsetting. The Church may be on the cusp of an historic crisis. The faithful bishops must rally and defend the integrity of the Catholic faith.

  • Ross Howard

    I had never heard of Dr Gore or the warnings that contraception might lead to civilization collapse. But Malcolm Muggeridge made a similar warning in San Francisco in 1978 in an essay on Humanae Vitae when he said:
    “…through human procreation the great creativity of men and women comes into play, and that to interfere with this creativity, to seek to relate it merely to pleasure, is to go back to pre-Christian times and ultimately to destroy the civilization that Christianity has brought about…If there is one thing I feel absolutely certain about, it is that. One thing that I know will appear in social histories in the future is that the dissolution of our way of life, our Christian way of life and all that it has meant to the world, relates directly to the matter raised in Humanae Vitae.”

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    Am I alone in finding an eerie similarity between the “Truce of 1968,” as George Weigal calls it, when the Congregation for the Clergy decreed that Cardinal O’Boyle of Washington should lift canonical penalties against those priests whom he had disciplined for their public dissent from Humanae Vitæ and the “Peace of Clement IX” during the Jansenist controversy?

    In both cases, after the Church had been riven by a decade-long dispute, a papal document was issued that was intended to be definitive.

    In both cases, the original quarrel was immediately forgotten and argument raged over the scope of papal authority to decide the question. In the Jansenist case, peace, of a sort, was achieved, when Pope Clement IX brokered an agreement that neither side would argue the question, at least, from the pulpit.

    The “Peace of Clement IX” lasted for about 35 years and ended in 1705 when Clement XI declared the clergy could no longer hide behind “respectful silence.” Eventually, in 1713, he issued Unigenitus and demanded the subscription of the clergy to it. There was enormous resistance, with bishops and priests appealing to a future Council (and being excommunicated for their pains, in 1718). As late as 1756, dissenters were still being denied the Last Rites.

    Will the “Truce of 1968” end in a similar fashion?

  • Morton

    Catholics, of course, have the papacy, a significant advantage over the Anglican communion.

    During last year’s interregnum, I remarked to someone that we didn’t necessarily need another intellectual heavyweight like Benedict or Saint John Paul II as the required work done during their combined papacies spanning 35 years had set the barque of Peter on the right course after the confused period following the Vatican council. In other words we didn’t necessarily need a Cardinal Scola or a cardinal Ouellet.

    My reasoning was not dissimilar to that contained in the words of Archbishop Cupich who said in a recent speech before being named Archbishop of Chicago that John Paul II told us what to do, Benedict told us why we should do it and Francis is telling us: do it.

    However, I’m now not so sure Francis is simply telling us to do what John Paul wanted us to do. It’s starting to look like he wants to revisit things. And it’s starting to look like Catholics are going to re-argue issues that the two previous papacies had quelled.

    Not good for the Church and not good for evangelization of the culture. We can’t evangelize when we’re fighting amongst ourselves. Francis had better put a lid on this right quick.

  • Deacon Ed Peitler

    This Synod has a subtext directed toward promoting evangelization. If the Synod continues on the wreckage course evidenced in the relatio, the only ones around to do the evangelizing will be the homosexuals and married/divorced/re-marrieds who will have come into the Church in droves due to the “mercy” extended to them by the Synod Fathers. We’ll see how that works out.

  • DXM

    This is not a case of history repeating itself. I highly doubt that we will see a Humanae Vitae moment out of Pope Francis. Pope Francis has shown his hand by and large. He is very deliberately supporting dissent. He will either need to back down or there will be a crisis of historic proportions — one that will dwarf the crisis that occurred in connection with Vatican II.

  • Cornelius

    This scaremongering about Europe and the declining birthrate to extinction strikes me as being as ridiculous as that of the current global warming rage. Contraception as a threat to Civilization? Please, that’s like saying umbrellas are a threat to the climate.

    Married couples don’t just have sex, they have a sex-life; and that sex-life, considered in its integrity, and as one that judiciously employs contraceptives, may be both fully expressive of, and open to, the marriage’s proper and sacramental procreational intention, as well as being fully expressive of the sensual love of its spouses.

    That a married couple chooses to use contraceptives on occasion does not mean that their sex-life is “intrinsically” “closed to life.” The Natural Law argument against contraception fails because it confuses the individual sex act with the totality that is a married sex-life.

    Before the availability of contraceptives, spouses who wished to control their fecundity were obliged to abstain from sexual engagement. The Church had, and has, no problem with this, precisely because it did not compromise the integrity and openness to life of the marital sex-life as a whole, even though such abstention placed constraints on the sensual expression of the love between the spouses.

    The judicious use of contraceptives achieves the same end: it controls fecundity without compromising the integrity and openness to life of the marital sex-life. But in addition, the sexual expression of spousal love is not restrained as it is when recourse is made to abstention. A blessing to conjugal life, surely?

  • Brad Miner

    Of course we all breathlessly await the publication of the full Cornelius Catechism, but in the meantime, here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

    2370 Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality.158 These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, 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” is intrinsically evil:

    “Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality. . . . The difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle . . . involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality.”

  • Jill

    Cornelius, if men want to have sex and not worry about children, then they ought to be the ones to suffer whatever biological, chemical or physical ‘alterations’ are needed to prevent them. Before I was Catholic, I suffered through poisoning myself with chemical contraceptives, risking a perforated uterus with an IUD, enduring numerous UTIs due to the diaphragm. It was a nightmare, one that I wonder many women don’t endure to ‘please their man’. Phooey on that! You don’t want kids? Ack, now that I’m Catholic I can’t say what I’d like to say, but if you’re going to have a closed sexual experience, you men figure it out. Women should quit being treated like lab rats.

  • Louise

    Cornelius, you’ve fallen into the fundamental option error. Read Veritatis Splendor #65-70 if you would like to understand where your analysis goes awry. In the meantime, substitute any serious sin in place of contraception in your analysis and perhaps you will see what is wrong.

  • Cornelius

    Who quotes from the Catechism:

    “… every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, 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” is intrinsically evil”

    I agree.

    Procreation is an activity, not an act. It consists in the begetting, nurturing, rearing, and educating of children, as well as the lifelong commitment by parents to exhort their children, by word and example, to lead a life pleasing to God. Once started, the procreative activity does not end until either the parent or child dies.

    This procreative activity is one proper to sacramentally instituted marriage. The judgement of the presence, nature, and quality of procreative activity within marriage cannot be divorced from, or reduced to anything less than, an assessment of the whole marriage, and in its full integrality. That is why, in assessing and judging the sexual nature and quality of a marriage, it is never enough to do so by reference to individual sexual encounters, but to the sex-life in its integrity as it subsists in the marriage.

    While the judicious use of contraceptives intends that individual sex encounters between spouses be purely sensual expressions of their love for each other, it does not at all follow that this is the intention with respect to the marital sex-life: on the contrary, this judicious use intends to bring order to the procreative activity of the sex-life and the greater married life in which it subsists.

    Judicious use of contraception does not “render procreation impossible” within the marriage, it brings order and attentiveness in the fulfilling of the procreative activity.

    Similarly, “the giving of oneself totally to the other” that occurs in marriage is not to be judged in terms of an individual act that may or may not exclude a given dimension at the time of that act, but in terms of the marriage in its integrity, where the quality of the whole activity is somewhat greater than the sum of its individual acts.

  • fredx2

    If it strikes you as being as silly as the global warming scare, think again. Europe is projected to be Muslim around 2100, simply because native Europeans do not reproduce. All nations that have heavily contracepted have had serious problems – Russia to name one. Japan to name another. In Japan, nobody comes to visit the elderly so they are creating robots to serve as elderly companions. Contraception poses threats to society that no one thought of 30 years ago. Also, women who contracept tend to choose the wrong men, probably insuring future divorce. The whole thing is an ill advised adventure.

  • Howard Kainz

    @Cornelius: Your updated theological insight sounds like Resolution 15 of the 1930 Lambeth Conference. And we know what happened after that.

  • Ken Tremendous

    “They have never honestly accepted the constant teaching of the Church on “birth prevention” as irreformable and infallibly taught – and powerfully confirmed by Pius XI, Pius XII, Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and now Francis.”

    Sorry but no…the easiest way to see that these teachings while constant are not irreformable is the the famous action of Paul VI to have the Theological Commission to evaluate whether a change in them was warranted. One simply doesn’t do this for a doctrine that is infallible and irreformable. ( By contrast a Pope would never convene a theological body to discuss whether a change was warranted in the doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus or the divinity of Jesus for instance).

    Secondly, the scope of infallible teachings according to the Magisterium itself in CCC 891 “extends as far as the deposit of Divine Revelation itself.” Since the teaching on artificial contraception is not a part of divine revelation, it therefore cannot be infallible.

    Yes, I know that at one time the Church contended that the story of Onan in Genesis 38:8-10 was about birth control, but none of the recent magisterial documents dealing with birth control from Vatican II on make this claim (beginning with Humanae Vitae)–a fact which is pretty clear evidence that the Church has backpedaled on it.

    Conservatives have hurt themselves by continuing to recycle this canard. Basically it has allowed liberals to shift the argument away from the truth of the teaching itself (where liberals have always been weak) to the shadow issue of whether it was taught infallibly (where liberals are clearly right that it wasn’t and cannot be).

  • DS

    It was not licentiousness but rather the discovery of ovulation in the early 20th century affected both Catholic and Anglican thought. Once people understood that a woman was fertile for only a few days every month, the traditionalist opposition to intercourse without procreative intent made less sense.

    Pius XI, in his response to Lambeth with Casti Cannubii, explicitly recognized the distinct unitive aspects of sexual relations, while never separating them from the procreative aspects. Pius XII was more explicit in sanctioning the morality of sexual relations for fertile couples using NFP.

    I have always thought that this evolution of the Church’s teaching had a built-in fault line in the promotion of NFP. It tells couples that they are entitled to exercise control over when to have children and has often been labeled as Catholic birth control. My teacher in a Catholic high school said the chief merit of NFP was that it was more effective than condoms. (When a classmate argued that, statistically, NFP plus a condom was even more effective, she had no counter-argument.)

    Once that bridge of “control” is crossed, then the debate is simply over NFP or artificial means. In that debate, a theologian appropriately focuses on natural law, and a married couple focuses on the realities of which birth control method will work best. The intent of the couple remains the same: they don’t want children, at least not at that particular moment. In that context, is the mass “wilfull disobedience” to Humanae Vitae really that awful or surprising?

    A genuine traditionalist would argue that this distinction misses the entire point, and that the commandment “be fruitful and multiply” should be taken literally: couples should use NFP precisely to time sexual relations during ovulation, so that the chances of pregnancy increase. Ultra Orthodox Jews understand this and have families of 6, 8 or 10 children as evidence of their obedience.

  • Manfred

    To ALL: There was a reply by the bishops today which is being described as the bishops’ revolt. Apparently Cdl Erdo rose up and Challenged Cdl Baldisseri, the organizer of the Synod. The pope was in attendance but he was described as being “silent and serious”. Other bishops arose and objected and they were assisted by considerable applause from the majority of bishops.
    IMHO this pope should resign.

  • Cornelius

    You must not view me as separating the fundamental option from specific concrete acts, but as aligning the one concrete activity, constituted as the marital sex-life, with the fundamental option. Perhaps Veritatis Splendor could be reread in that light?
    And actually substituting oranges for bananas in one’s banana bread recipe is not a good way to demonstrate the inadequacy of the banana bread recipe.

    Why fear Europe being Muslim by 2100? It is atheist today.

    @Howard Kainz
    What I find interesting is not what happened after Resolution 15, but how we arrived at the possibility of Resolution 15 to begin with.

    Your very interesting comment prompts this thought.

    Suppose a married couple practiced NFP throughout their married life and so did not conceive children. It seems to me that from a sacramental point of view this marriage is void because it was never properly consummated by virtue of the fact that it deliberately eschewed sexual concourse open to procreation. (Infertile couples may also have only sex that fails to lead to begetting children, but this does not invalidate their intention towards procreationally open sex.)

    If this is the case then, the only circumstances where the Church could regard NFP as legitimate is in relation to individual sex encounters but where all the time the sex-life in its integrity is open to procreation. In other words, what already in the Church’s view determines sexual legitimacy in marriage is not whether individual sex acts are open or not to procreation, but whether the sex-life in the totality of its activity is.

    I wonder what the catechism has to say about that?

  • Louise

    Cornelius, the marital sex life is made up of concrete separate actions, not some whole that can be judged on its totality. that’s the problem with your analysis. that’s the whole point of the critique of the fundamental option.
    Individual actions matter and are judged as individual actions. there is no such thing as a “marital sex life” that constitutes one action. Each act of contraceptive sex within marriage is grave matter in and of itself…if the other conditions are present it is a mortal sin, period.
    And yes, you can substitute to illustrate by saying, I love God, it doesn’t matter that i commit an occasional mortal sin, I’m not wholly rejecting God with that sin because I really really feel like I love Him. Same difference.
    In fact, that single mortal sin is absolutely the fundamental rejection of God.
    Did I answer your point? I was not totally clear on your first sentence.

  • Howard

    If the Church had a genuine chance of following the Anglican lead, it would mean that She had been a fraud all along. Since She is not, She cannot. That’s not to say that the foolishness underway now could not lead to the loss of many souls.

  • Howard Kainz

    @Cornelius: “What I find interesting is not what happened after Resolution 15, but how we arrived at the possibility of Resolution 15 to begin with.”
    “We” didn’t arrive at that possibility, but the Episcopalian Church did, as they were trying to modernize their church in line with the new birth control movement popularized by Margaret Sanger.

  • George Sim Johnston

    Technically, the teaching on contraception is an irreformable teaching of the Ordinary Magisterium, as defined in Lumen Gentium n. 25: ” … loyal submission of the will and intellect must be given, in a special way, to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he does not speak ex cathedra in such wise, indeed, that his supreme teaching authority be acknowledged with respect, and that one sincerely adhere to the decisions made by him … ” etc. Technically, teachings on moral issues like contraception and abortion are not “infallible” teachings, since they are not defined ex cathedra. But that does not mean they are therefore “fallible” as people like Charles Curran assert. They are proposed as true and should be accepted as such by the faithful.

  • DS

    Louise, you framed the issue perfectly, and that’s where I have a problem with NFP. What should we make of the individual sex act when a couple, using NFP techniques, concludes that the woman is not ovulating? They don’t want a child (at least not then), conclude that it’s “safe” and have sexual relations. Or if NFP techniques indicated ovulation, they would not have sex. Their intent, their behavior and their desire for control is no different than a couple using artificial birth control. The only difference is the means.

  • Cornelius

    Allow me to present you with a series of “concrete separate” letters:

    Ssssnoie fo nweb hewn htughot ot listen het wtees.

    Now let me present you with the same “concrete separate” letters.

    When to the sessions of sweet silent thought.

    In the first instance each letter is just that: a letter that doesn’t point beyond itself, or is not imbued with a transcendent meaning that informs it.
    In the second case, each letter participates in, and finds its place in, a meaning that transcends and informs it.

    Ditto the sex-life, which I specifically referred to as activity not action, by the way.

    Each sex act is a participation in a marital sex-life. The meaning, purpose, relevance, significance, understanding of any individual act is not contained in itself alone, but in the activity in which it participates. It is the activity that informs each individual action, not the series of actions that inform the activity.

    If I’m walking down the street and I see a man rush another and knock him down, I am likely to be surprised and upset. However, if I see the same action on a football field it will not affect me in the same way, because in this latter case the action occurs as part of an activity called playing football.

    It is not the parts that inform the whole. It is the whole that informs the parts.

  • Chris Ramsey

    My wife and I practiced NFP and we have three children ages 24, 21, and 19. I’ve been reading the comments above and it occurred to me that DS may be viewing NFP in the wrong light. NFP is not really a form of “control” but rather one of awareness, a form of “self-knowledge” exercised by the couple. I’m no theologian, but I was always struck by the different types and degrees of intimacy which grew and developed between my wife and I as we “practiced” (and believe me, it definitely takes practice!) NFP.

    The analogies which stem from agriculture (and the natural world in general) are certainly helpful. A wise farmer plants seed in “due season”. Sometimes he will let a field lie fallow, or rotate crops. All of this he does for the good.

    I don’t think I’m explaining myself well, but let me just point out that all artificial methods of birth control are either intrusive or disruptive. They are all an interruption of nature. NFP is none of these things. Now, I’ll wait for smarter people to show me where I’m wrong or to develop this thought along more proper channels.

  • Louise

    DS, think of it this way, the means matter. The end does not justify the means. It’s really that simple. The couples may have the same intention, the same end–they have prayed and come to the conclusion that they should probably not get pregnant at this time–but the couple who engages in the marital act without any contraceptives are not doing anything wrong…they are simply mistaken. They are not doing anything to frustrate the natural end of the marital act so there is nothing wrong with their action. They have a right to engage in it. When they abstain to achieve the end, they are not engaging in an action so there is no act to morally dissect.

    The contracepting couple on the other hand, uses an immoral means to gain the same end. Big difference.

    Sorry Cornelius, you are just repeating the same argument and it is still incorrect. Your example of letters and words has no correspondence to actions which are always judged by the end, means, and circumstances, all of which must be good in order for the act to be morally good.
    I’m not sure if you have had a chance to read VS but here’s a clip that might help from #67:
    “To separate the fundamental option from concrete kinds of behaviour means to contradict the substantial integrity or personal unity of the moral agent in his body and in his soul. A fundamental option understood without explicit consideration of the potentialities which it puts into effect and the determinations which express it does not do justice to the rational finality immanent in man’s acting and in each of his deliberate decisions. In point of fact, the morality of human acts is not deduced only from one’s intention, orientation or fundamental option, understood as an intention devoid of a clearly determined binding content or as an intention with no corresponding positive effort to fulfill the different obligations of the moral life. Judgments about morality cannot be made without taking into consideration whether or not the deliberate choice of a specific kind of behaviour is in conformity with the dignity and integral vocation of the human person. Every choice always implies a reference by the deliberate will to the goods and evils indicated by the natural law as goods to be pursued and evils to be avoided. In the case of the positive moral precepts, prudence always has the task of verifying that they apply in a specific situation, for example, in view of other duties which may be more important or urgent. But the negative moral precepts, those prohibiting certain concrete actions or kinds of behaviour as intrinsically evil, do not allow for any legitimate exception. They do not leave room, in any morally acceptable way, for the “creativity” of any contrary determination whatsoever. Once the moral species of an action prohibited by a universal rule is concretely recognized, the only morally good act is that of obeying the moral law and of refraining from the action which it forbids.”

  • Howard Kainz

    @DS: Louise is correct. All of our life consists of specific acts and these acts end up as habits which define our life orientations. In NFP there is no act directed at preventing conception. In fact, many couples having difficulty with having children use NFP to pinpoint fertile periods and increase the possibility of conceiving. With contraception each sexual act is aimed at preventing conception, anti-procreative. Granted, however, it would be against the spirit of NFP (and an extremely arduous case of OCD) to use it throughout marriage. It is meant to be temporary.

  • Cornelius

    “In NFP there is no act directed at preventing conception”
    Since when is checking the thermometer to see if now is a good time to do it without getting preggers not an act?

    You are a nominalist. I am repeating myself because what I said first time up is correct.
    The “actions which are always judged by the end, means, and circumstances” are judged by the end, means and circumstances of the sex-life that gives those actions their meaning, and so long as that sex-life, qua sex-life, is open to procreation, as well as expressions of sensual love, then they are good actions.

  • Louise

    I just found what I was looking for…I knew that I had read an explicit consideration and rejection of the idea you are promoting and just found it–in Humanae Vitae of course!
    I sincerely hope you will find this helpful–it’s from #14:
    “Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one, or that such intercourse would merge with procreative acts of past and future to form a single entity, and so be qualified by exactly the same moral goodness as these. Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good,” it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (18)—in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general. Consequently, it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong.”

  • Cornelius


    Thank you for the references you provide. But I must tell you that talking of lesser and greater evils does not accurately address what is at issue here.

    A contracepted sexual act is in and of itself neither good nor evil; just like one man tackling and bringing down another is neither in itself good or evil. What renders the act good or evil is the intending context that informs it. Tackling a man on a football pitch is acceptable, tackling him on the street is not.

    A contracepted sexual act within a marriage is wrong if the partners intend all the sexual acts within the sex-life to be contracepted, because this would entail that their sex-life, and consequently their marriage, is intentionally closed to procreation. But contracepted sex acts in a sex-life, that also includes non-contracepted sex-acts, are not wrong, because they do not close the sex-life, and so the marriage, to procreation.

    Look at what the Pope says: ” it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it.”
    He is absolutely right. But now tell me, Louise, is the act of killing a man in and of itself evil? I would answer that the act of killing a man in and of itself is neither good nor evil. To kill an innocent man in cold blood is evil. To kill a man to stop him in the act of slaughtering others when no other means are available to stop him is not evil. In both cases the same act of killing a man is entailed, but what makes one action evil and the other not is the intentional context that informs either act. And this intentional context is something that is over and above the act, and indeed it is something that may inform many different acts inter-relatedly.

    The Pope implicitly acknowledges this too when he says it is wrong “to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order.” To intend to kill a man is not in itself a contradiction of the moral order, but to intend to kill an innocent man in cold blood so that something good may come of it is. The important point here is that the judgement of wrongness is not reached by applying it to the act alone, but to the act together with the intention that informs it.

    Of course a complication that arises and which easily confuses people from seeing the truth of what I am arguing occurs in the case where an agent performs an act within an intending context that is mistakenly applied. For example, if I killed an innocent man in cold blood because I thought him in the process of slaughtering others, and was performing the action to stop him, then that action may be judged morally wrong, but not because an innocent man was killed in cold blood, but if I should have known him to be innocent and was culpable in coming to the mistaken conclusion that he was slaughtering people. In this case the wrongness lies not in the act together with the intending context, but in the culpability associated with arriving at an intending context. The wrongness is attributable to my dereliction to properly form the intending context that informed the action.

    I hope this helps!

  • DS

    @Howard and Louise, Thanks for your replies. Howard, I would like to press you further. In NFP, there is no mechanical act directed at contraception, but there is an act of obtaining knowledge to inform couples about their likelihood to conceive. This, in turn, affects their choices re. sexual intimacy. So unless NFP is specifically used to enhance fertility, isn’t an individual act that seeks to avoid intercourse during ovaluation – however infrequently – problematic? You state that “it is meant to be temporary.” I guess the question is “temporary what”? It seems like NFP is on a slippery slope.

  • Louise

    Cornelius, if you won’t believe St. JPII or Paul VI who is merely restating the constant teaching of the church I don’t know where else to go. What you are arguing has already been dissected and rejected in HV and VS. VS was particularly good on explaining the moral act, #76-83 is a veritable tour de force on the subject. You have constructed an alternative system of morality which is irreconcilable with Church teaching. I wish you well my friend.
    As to the murder analogy, St. JPII gave a beautiful treatment of that in V.S. as well, at least I think that’s where I saw it. I hesitate to try and restate what he said but it was something like killing is always wrong but the guilt of killing a man in self defense lies with the attacker not the one who defends. Can’t find the cite at the moment.

  • Cornelius

    Thank you Louise. I don’t think “my teaching” is irreconcilable with the truth that the Church intends, I think she just hasn’t gotten around to expressing herself fully adequately yet.

    Allow me to leave you with an example of the consequences of our different understandings.

    There are two couples, A and B. Throughout their married life couple A practiced NFP. They only had intercourse during naturally occurring infertile periods. They died childless as they intended to do.

    Couple B used artificial contraceptives on occasion, and planned the timing of their begetting children. They ended up with 3 beautiful children.

    According to the Church’s teaching as you understand it, because each act of sexual intercourse by couple A was intrinsically lawful, their sex life as a whole was blameless, and in consequence there marriage was authentically Christian.
    On the other hand, because couple B performed “intrinsically evil” acts, their sex life was blameworthy, and consequently their marriage was inauthentic and unchristian.

    In my view it is just the reverse. Couple A intended a sex life that excluded and closed itself to the procreative dimension, and so their marriage was not authentically christian. On the other hand, couple B’s sex life was open to procreation, they have 3 children to prove it so, and their marriage, unlike couple A’s, is sacramentally valid just because they intended it to be open to procreation.

  • Louise

    Ah Cornelius, you sucked me back in! but there will be a natural end to our discussion when this post falls off the front page.

    What you are talking about is sin of omission which is a different analysis than a sin of commission. It is much more difficult to identify a sin of omission due to the many prudential variables involved, but as we all know, they truly exist. The couple who without serious reason totally rejects childbearing has committed sins of omission. But if memory serves me, even H.V. allows in theory the possibility of a childless marriage for serious reasons.

    However, contracepted marital intercourse is inherently evil and always grave matter.

  • Louise

    P.S. “committed” a sin of omission is probably not the best language but I think you get my drift.

  • Cornelius

    Welcome back Louise!

    But for Couple A the sin of omission is a sin with respect to what? Not to their individual sex acts, for each of these is intrinsically ordered, but to their sex-life, qua sex-life. But if each of Couple A’s acts of intercourse is intrinsically ordered while their sex-life is intrinsically disordered, then it follows that the sex-life is more than the simple sum of its constituent sex-acts; it contains an over-and-aboveness that transcends the sum of sex acts, and it determines the nature of the marriage as a whole.

    So if I understand what your position is now, it boils down to this:

    Couple A’s sex acts are all intrinsically ordered, but their sex-life, and hence their marriage, is intrinsically disordered by virtue of deliberately excluding openness to procreation.

    Couple B’s sex acts include intrinsically disordered ones, but their sex-life, and hence their marriage, is intrinsically ordered by virtue of being open to procreation.

    That is your position, isn’t it?

  • Louise

    No, your summation is merely a reiteration of your position not mine.