Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Birth Control and the Church

Abbot Tryphon on birth control with an editorial comment from ByzantineTexas.

I for one think this is an excellent short commentary. Catholics who typically have an all or nothing approach and a rather restricted understanding of economia view any concession as a sell out. But while I disagree with that, it is indisputable that the Church here in N. America has become far too permissive on the subject of ABC. Use of BC is an exception to a rule granted for good reasons. It is not a "choice" within marriage. And any form of abortificient birth control is always morally inadmissible. Far too many priests don't raise the issue before a wedding, but the teaching of the Church is clear. If you don't want kids, then you can't marry. Not every sexual act has to be open to procreation. But every marriage does.

23 comments:

Gregory Valentine said...

I think the issue also involves what kind of birth control is most within moral parameters. Even the Roman church allows for a "natural birth control" which it calls natural family planning. I do recommend that form to couples as they prepare for marriage, but not for the sake of avoiding having children at all. If Christians keep refusing the gift of life to future generations then soon we will be over run by those who don't, to wit Islam.

Peter Fonseca said...

I am waiting for the mad woman from Albany to rail at Abbot Tryphon as yet another "konvertsy" filth.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

Peter
I am annoyed with you. Until you posted that comment I had happily forgotten about the existence of "she who must not be named."

Anonymous said...

I really wish we in the Orthodox Church talked about this issue more. It too often seem like the Catholics are fighting this war alone. They aren't or at least shouldn't be. Our view on birth control is somewhat distinct from theirs, but on the practical level it is the same for 99% of marriages.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

Anonymous
I think I would say our view of birth control is more nuanced as opposed to distinct from Rome's. But otherwise I agree with you.

Bob Glassmeyer said...

As a Roman Catholic who is sterile, I'd like to share that every act of marital intimacy is life-giving whether or not a child is conceived. The marital act is unitive before it is anything else, and is an experience of spiritual fecundity, an act that involves three: man, wife, and the Lord.

Also, when a couple is for whatever reason not sexually intimate, other things are in place that makes it all worthwhile. What makes marital intimacy exciting is that the couple has pledged a lifetime of love and devotion to each other and to the Lord, and, as Fulton Sheen said, it takes three to get married (Man, Wife, God).

May God be praised and glorified for the Sacrament of Marriage, and may He be merciful to me, a sinner.

Visibilium said...

Sex, like warfare, is never meritorious, but allowances are made for our fallen nature. The sole rationale for sex within marriage is procreation. There's no "conjugal debt" or any other neo-pagan compromise with the world's fallenness.

Sex outside of marriage is either fornication or adultery, and both of these sins are frequently lumped together. Whether contraception is permissible outside of marriage is laughably beside the point.

Chris Jones said...

Sex, like warfare, is never meritorious, but allowances are made for our fallen nature.

I think this is clearly false, and I suspect that this sort of thinking is behind much, though not all, of Christian opposition to birth control. If sex is essentially evil and can only be redeemed by restricting its purpose entirely to procreation, then a strict teaching against birth control logically follows. I firmly deny the major premise of that syllogism. To say that "sex can never be meritorious" and that it pertains only to our fallen nature is Manichaean and denies the goodness of God's creation.

If sex were only part of our fallenness, then the Church could not bless marriages, of which sexual union is an integral part.

If I am wrong about this, then show me from the Scriptures, the Church's Tradition, and (especially) from the liturgy of marriage that sex within marriage is evil per se. If I am right, though, the case against birth control has to be made without recourse to the notion that sex is evil. It can, perhaps, be done, but it is not often done.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

Gotta take Chris' side on this one. Sex within marriage is not something dirty or a necessary evil. The Church has never held such a position and to the extent that idea has gained currency, especially in some quarters in the Russian Church, I think it is an unfortunate import from the Catholics. Marital intimacy has always been held as something wonderful and sacred.

Visibilium said...

A manichean view, on the contrary, would hold that procreation is evil, which the Church has never held.

In fact, I'd associate the "goodness of creation" argument with the pagan, papalized West. And it outright ignores creation's fallenness.

Chris Jones said...

I'd associate the "goodness of creation" argument with the pagan, papalized West.

Guilt by association is only a way of dismissing an argument, not an actual response to it.

it outright ignores creation's fallenness

It does no such thing. Of course sex, like all of God's creation, is fallen. But the Fall does not take what God created as good and make it evil. The Fall corrupts what is good and makes it damaged, and turns it to evil purposes. But God's creation remains good by nature.

And make no mistake: sex, as created by God, is good in itself, by nature. God made human beings male and female before the Fall; he gave the commandment to be fruitful and multiply before the Fall; and man and woman, in their sexual complementarity and with the potential and the command to be fruitful by sexual union, are included in God's pronouncement that all that he had made was "very good." So the notion that sex and sexuality are themselves consequences of the Fall, and somehow evil in themselves, is right out.

Sex outside of marriage is sinful not because sex itself is evil, and needs marriage to make what is evil good (or, more true to what you are saying, to make what is evil barely acceptable as a concession to human weakness). It is sinful because it takes what is good by nature and divorces it from the purposes God created it for (both procreative and unitive). When a man and a woman have sex outside of marriage, they sin against the procreative purpose of sex because they have no commitment to love, cherish, and care for any child that may come of the union; and they sin against the unitive purpose of sex because they do not have the total life-long commitment to each other that sex implies. But it is the ripping away of sex from its God-given purposes that makes it sinful, not the nature of sex itself, which remains good even when we sinful human beings abuse it.

Visibilium said...

Guilt by association is only a way of dismissing an argument, not an actual response to it.

You're asserting the truth of an alien view. I'm dismissing it. That's my response to heterodoxy. I have no intention of picking and choosing amongst foreign notions on a quest to substitute them for Orthodox views.

And make no mistake: sex, as created by God, is good in itself, by nature.

The RCC thinks that sex is normal and natural as well as morally neutral. Augustine of Hippo was probably the originator of that particular perspective.

That's not an Orthodox view.

The Orthodox view is that sexual activity is the result of the Fall. St Gregory of Nyssa, for example, asserted this.

Did God create humans to have sex? Male and female are genders, not sexual activities. You're interpreting their genders as evidence of the goodness of sexual activity without any evidence that sexual activity was an integral part of gender identity prior to the Fall. Gender and sexual activity are two different phenomena. Where's the evidence Adam and Eve had sex prior to the Fall?

How about the commandment to be fruitful and multiply? I'd like to see evidence that pre-Fall fecundity consisted in sexual activity.

The plain fact stands that you have no idea whether sex was an integral part of Creation or whether it was an outcome of the Fall. The traditional Orthodox view is the latter.

That the papalized West blithely follows the Hippo in viewing sex as an integral part of Creation is an indication of her underlying paganism. Too many Orthodox in Western countries feel a need to ape the papes on many issues, including this one.

Chris Jones said...

You're wrong.

If sex, like warfare, is "never meritorious," where are the canons imposing penance for sexual intercourse within marriage (as there are for killing in warfare)? If sex is evil, how can the Church bless marriage? The Church does not bless evil.

I am not asserting a heterodox teaching. You are misrepresenting the Orthodox teaching. If it were not so, the Scriptures, the canons, the liturgy and the consensus of the Fathers would witness to your view. They do not.

Also, if I were you I should hesitate to refer derisively to a saint of the Orthodox Church as "the Hippo." He was wrong on some things, but he is still a saint worthy of our veneration, not our derision.

Visibilium said...

Also, if I were you

I'll refer to the Hippo as I choose, but thanks anyway for your faux solicitude. "The Hippo" is especially useful in distinguishing him from "the Canterbury".

where are the canons imposing penance

That's your interpretation of how the Church should deal with sexual matters, not the Church's. Sex and warfare are different. One questionable activity produces offspring, a good, and the other questionable activity produces death, an evil. They're hardly identical and, in the case of sex, not particularly straightforward, which accounts for your confusion in this matter.

While you're rooting around for tangential issues you may want to investigate the meaning of the Church Slavonic term, celomudryj, an exalted and meritorious state in which married couples eschewed conjugal relations.

Here's something from St Clement of Alexandria: "A man who marries for the sake of begetting children must practice continence so that it is is not desire he feels for his wife, whom he ought to love, and so that he may beget children with a chaste and controlled will."

So much for intimacy.

Chris Jones said...

Sex and warfare are different.

You bet they are: sex is from God and is good, warfare is from the Devil and is evil. You are the one who equated them (in your first comment), not I.

Stephen said...

How about the commandment to be fruitful and multiply? I'd like to see evidence that pre-Fall fecundity consisted in sexual activity.

Is there evidence that it did not?

Plus, Genesis aside, we do have the mystery of "two becoming one flesh".

Also, Catholics accord the unmarried clerical state to be formally in a state of grace higher than any layperson, married or not, so you can't look to the RCC for back-up here as much as you might want to.

Visibilium said...

Is there evidence that it did not?

Does logic prove existence or non-existence?

Plus, Genesis aside, we do have the mystery of "two becoming one flesh".

Does the one-flesh mystery pertain to procreation or copulation?

Chris Jones said...

Does the one-flesh mystery pertain to procreation or copulation?

The verb "cleave" (κολληθησεται, lit. "glue together") refers to the union between man and woman, not to the issue that comes from that union. So no, it does not refer to procreation (by some unstated means) but to copulation. There is absolutely nothing in the text that suggests anything else, and to hypothesize an alternative means of procreation and pretend that κολληθησεται refers to that hypothetical non-sexual procreation is the purest eisegesis.

Note that St Paul uses the same verb to refer to the sexual union between a man and a harlot (1 Co 1.16). I don't think St Paul is speaking of some non-sexual, non-physical avenue to procreation. There is no reason to suppose that κολληθησεται is used for non-sexual procreation in Genesis, Matthew, or Mark either.

Does logic prove existence or non-existence?

You are the one arguing from silence (i.e. Genesis does not specifically refer to copulation before the Fall, therefore it did not happen), and ignoring the plain meaning of the verb involved ("glued together") which refers to physical union.

You can believe that sex is a consequence of the Fall if you like, but you will have to rely on something else than the text of Holy Scripture as the basis of that belief.

Visibilium said...

The only silence is your inability to prove your case, namely, that human sexual activity was part of creatiom, not the fall.

Chris Jones said...

The burden of proof is on you, not on me. You asserted that sex is a consequence of the Fall and have failed to demonstrate it, not only from Scripture but from a fair and complete reading of the Tradition.

If what you say is true, then all the witnesses to the Tradition, starting with Scripture but including the consensus of the Fathers, the holy canons, and the Church's liturgy, would testify to it.

Visibilium said...

then all the witnesses to the Tradition, starting with Scripture but including the consensus of the Fathers, the holy canons, and the Church's liturgy,

That's a nifty little formulation, and I'm wondering whether you created it or someone helped you. In any event, your listing is irrelevant because it lacks comprehensiveness. You can't really cherry-pick only those particular sources of Orthodox practice and belief that make sense to you.

Chris Jones said...

I'm wondering whether you created it or someone helped you

I'm wondering whether, if you put your mind to it, you could be any more condescending.

In any case, yes, I had help. It was taught to me by my teacher, Prof (now Bishop) Alexander Golitzin. And I will admit that my list of witnesses is not exhaustive; I omitted, for example, the witness of the holy icons, and I did not specifically mention the local and ecumenical councils. If there are any other witnesses to the Tradition that you would like to add, feel free. The important thing is not the completeness of the list, but the relative importance of the witnesses, starting with the Holy Scriptures, which are "the pre-eminent and normative witness to the Apostolic Tradition" (another phrase I learned from Bp Alexander).

So by all means, bulk up my list of witnesses to the Tradition all you like. And then show me from all (or most) of those witnesses that you are right that sex is evil, a consequence of the Fall. So far we have almost none of that, and in its place we have your bald assertions, snark, and condescension.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

OK this comment thread has gone from being an interesting an informative discussion to name calling. Let's focus on the issues and facts not personalities. If we have exhausted that then I will close the comments. Thanks...

In ICXC
John