There comes a time in the course of the history of every institution and organization when it becomes vitally apparent that a defense or, at the very least, a suitable explanation of its doctrine must be concocted. Certainly, for many groups such as Roman Catholics, times such as these have come and gone throughout our 2000 year history since the time of Christ. When heretical teachings arise, protesting groups break away, or when the government interferes with our most basic of operations, the Church, in Her wisdom and authority, has been called to stand tall and act against these intruding ideals in order that the great message of the Church might be upheld and her mission continued.
The question, especially in the Church in America, is not a question of “what,” but rather of “why.” Given the Church’s controversial stance on topics such as abortion, contraception, same sex unions and homosexuality, and women priests, many of the faithful, both lay people and members of the hierarchy of the Church, have come to misunderstand or disregard completely the explanations and reasons behind many of the Magisterium’s positions on moral and social problems facing our current world. It shall be reiterated, as it has long been known by people of faith, that the moment we begin to ignore explanations and the reasoning of the Church, we then begin to ignore the explanations and reasoning of Christ who founded the Church and of God our Father whose natural law we are bound to defend. When we begin to assign our own imagined explanations to the teachings of the Church, there is little to stop us from creating our own precepts and teachings and attempting to add them into the doctrine of the Church of Christ, thus spreading the destructive influence of relativism and individualism and creating, in a word, our own Magisterium for our own church which, inevitably, will grow farther and farther away from God and his one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
Let it be noted at the start that this letter is not to be interpreted as an action of persuasion or an effort of conversion. Rather, it should be read and interpreted as an act of evangelization and as an opportunity for continued inner spiritual growth as we Christians consciously dive deeper into our faith and into the great mysteries of Christ which are made present through His Church. Through prayer and other experiences, it has been made plainly clear to us that an effort needs to be taken not to simply present Church responses to current issues strangling our society; indeed, modern popular culture and mass media have done this for us. Our job now as a Church must be to break down these most critical of issues with utmost urgency and provide explanations which are genuine, objective, and straightforward. In these pages and passages that follow, we will try to provide explanation of the key Church teachings surrounding the matters listed previously, namely birth control and contraception, same sex marriage and homosexuality, and the idea of a woman priesthood. In order that this might be accomplished, we will make use of various documents and letters, namely Humanae Vitae, Familaris Consortio, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (second edition), all of which find Sacred Scripture and the tradition of the Church as their base.
HV: Humanae Vitae
CCC: Catechism of the Catholic Church
PART ONE: ARTIFICIAL BIRTH CONTROL AND CONTRACEPTION
The first matter we shall address is that of the use of contraceptives and other artificial birth control. The Church has been quite clear in the modern era, certainly, but she has also been clear since the time of the popularization of these methods during the sexual revolution of the 1960’s. It is vital for our understanding of Church teaching that we keep in mind the two-fold goods of marriage: love and desire for the good of the spouse, and procreation, the transmission of human life. This transmission, says Paul VI, “is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator.” (HV Preface) This responsibility has been, and remains, a source of great joy for the couple “even though it sometimes entails many difficulties and hardships.” (HV preface). As in all matters of faith and virtue, difficulty and hardship do not provide us an excuse to “cut corners” or introduce artificiality into the relationship so our own contentment and convenience might be preserved. Indeed, the answer is the exact contrary since this “mindset of artificiality” as we have come to know it destroys, in time, the great and genuine nature of true love; the very nature of marriage requires that the man and woman give themselves totally to one other, body and spirit, such that they might become one flesh. When we try to run from difficulty, we are faced “with the consequence that many families…would be faced with greater hardship” (HV I.2).
We believe, and the Church reinforces this belief, that advances in science and medicine have, and will continue, to benefit the world in many beautiful ways; truly these blessings are gifts from God. However, our progress in the “domination and rational organization of the forces of nature” has gone so far and become so advanced that we are now observing man as he endeavors to spread this control over every aspect of his life – “over his body, over his mind and emotions, over his social life, and even over the laws that regulate the transmission of life” (HV I.2). This most remarkable development seems to be the foundation which is leading society to take the Divine out of that which is divine and replace it with merely human judgment and interference. As man becomes increasingly aware of his responsibilities in the world and in the advancement of science, it should not come as a surprise that we, as a society, have started to believe that the most basic responsibility, the transmission of life, can and should be regulated by our “intelligence and will, rather than through the specific rhythms of [our] own bodies” (HV I.3). Indeed our problem does not have its root in our lack of appreciation for the human life and body; this unfortunate effect is a result, not a cause. The root of the problem and cause of this mindset of artificiality is that we as a society have come to know so much about the workings of the human mind and body that, as human persons, we think we have the ability to control the workings of the human mind and body and, in turn, leave no place for the divine.
Of course, this question of procreation involves much more than the limited and empirical disciplines such as psychology, biology, sociology or demography. In all that we do and in all choices we make, whatever it is these things concern, the whole of our being and the entire mission to which we are called must be come into our consideration; in other words, we must consider how this decision over that decision will impact (either positively or negatively) both our “natural, earthly aspects” and “our supernatural, eternal aspects” (HV II.7). Concerning artificial methods of birth control, many couples make appeal to the “demands of married love or of responsible parenthood,” meaning that their contraceptive mentality is permissible due to concern for their marriage or their ability to adequately provide for their children already born (HV II. 7). The Church would deem these to be justifiable concerns, but would grow weary to see them as appropriate justifications for the use of birth control. In order for this to make sense, it is important to look at married love and responsible parenthood separately.
First, in order to understand marriage as it is, it is essential to note what marriage is in regards to the human person. Married love is, overall, totally human; humans are made of a compound of body and soul, thus married love is a “compound of sense and spirit.” Married love, then, is not simply a question of emotional drive or instinct, but a conscious choice and act of free will. This love is designed so that it will not only weather the joys and struggles of everyday life, but so that “husband and wife become in a way one heart and one soul, and together attain their human fulfillment.” In this way, married love is love freely given and freely received (HV II.9.2).
In addition to its freedom, married love is a total love in which “husband and wife generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions” or doing only what is convenient for them. Anyone who loves his spouse totally will be completely “content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself.” To love with this deep and sacred level of commitment is to have a married love which is total (HV II.9.3).
Apart from being both free and total, married love must be faithful. Even when times of great difficulty or strife arise, the faithful bond of married love endures forever; it exists as “exclusive if all other, and this until death.” Since this faithful love exists and prospers despite hardship, it is always seen as “honorable and meritorious” and, given the countless examples of successful and fruitful marriage, this fidelity is the “source of profound and enduring happiness” (HV II.9.4).
Not only is married love seen as free, total, and faithful, it must also be fruitful. Married love is not confined entirely to the love between the husband and wife; it must “go beyond this to bring new life into being.” The Church, in her wisdom, has stated that “marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the procreation and education of children” (HV II.9.5).
If one submits to this idea, then, that married love is truly free, total, faithful, and fruitful then he cannot deny the destructive nature of the use of artificial birth control and contraception in the relationship of a husband and wife. Certainly, the use of contraception is opposite and against married life since it prevents a free and total relationship between a man and a woman. Birth control, at its very core, is meant to block the most sublime expression of love which is the transmission of life; it is meant to stop the result or the end on which the conjugal act is founded.
In regards to responsible parenthood, another common appeal for the use of artificial birth control, requires the full awareness of these responsibilities of married love. On the subject of biological processes, responsible parenthood requires an “awareness of, and respect for, their proper functions” (HV II.10.2). In the Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas writes that in the procreative faculty, “the human mind discerns biological laws that apply to the human person” (see St. Thomas Aquinas, summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 94, art2.). In regards to man’s natural emotions and drives, these must be controlled by the reason and will which the Creator endowed in us all.
The topic of responsible parenthood has one “essential aspect of paramount importance” (HV II.10.5). This aspect deals with the objective moral order, or natural law, which was created and bestowed on us by God the Creator. Indeed, one can appeal to responsible parenthood as a means for justifying the use of contraception, but, if this be the case, the couple has totally disregarded their duties given them as part of being a responsible parenthood and partaker in the mystery of God; “responsible parenthood requires that a husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society” (HV II. 10.5). Responsible parents must recognize their very status as parents to b a fulfillment of the second of the two-fold goods of marriage. The only substantial requirement placed upon a husband and wife with regards to the responsibility of their parenting is that together they must raise a family of deep faith, teaching always, through word and deed, the love and mystery of Jesus Christ. This responsibility was bestowed upon them as part of the sacramental grace received during Holy Matrimony. It follows, then, that the husband and wife are “not free to act as they choose in the service of transmitting life, as if it were wholly up to them to decide what is the right course to follow” (HV II.10.6.). They are required by their Christian heritage and profession of faith to follow the plans of the Master Navigator; he, who through his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, bestows on the world all that is good.
When, as people of faith, we consider the dilemma of artificial birth control and contraception, it is of utmost importance to make appeal to our obligation to remain faithful to the design of God. It has been rightly observed that “an act of mutual love which impairs the capacity to transmit life…frustrates His design which constitutes the norm of marriage, and contradicts the will of the Author of life” (HV II.13.1). The transmission of life is an end or goal of marriage and resides in the very will of God the Creator and Father. For the human person to conscientiously block this good of marriage is to directly block the will and plan of God from coming to fruition. However, if one chooses to experience the conjugal act, a great gift of married love, with deep respect for the laws of conception then he also acknowledges that he is not the “master of the sources of life” but is simply a “minister of the design established by the Creator” (HV II.13.1).
When Paul VI wrote Humanae Vitae, he set forth a number of possible and highly probable consequences of the uses of artificial methods of birth control. In her response to this issue in our modern society, the Church often makes appeal to this document in order to shed light on each of these consequences and how, not surprisingly, each one has come to fruition in some form. The Church teaches that “responsible men can become more convinced of the truth…if they reflect on the consequences” of these forms of contraception (HV II.17.1). Contraception and its widespread use pave the way for marital infidelity and, in general, a lowering of moral standards. All persons, in their human weakness, especially those who are young and mainly exposed to temptations, need incentives in order to keep the moral law. Contraception provides a consequence-free, relationship-free approach to sexual relations meant to take place only within the bonds of marriage. In addition, it comes as no surprise that a society which grows “accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reference due to a woman” (HV II.17.1). When the total and faithful characteristics are removed from the conjugal act and are replaced with artificiality, man is then able to reduce the woman “to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires” (HV II.17.1). Certainly this consequence is seen in the story lines and characters of movies, television, music, and in our day to day relationships. The Church also warns of the unique danger that presents itself when, in general, power passes into the hands of public officials who care little for the moral law. To these men and women, solutions to problems of health care might seem totally relative; in a word, should they see it necessary to impose upon the people a particular method or solutions simply because it was they feel they should do or has worked for them, they can and will do it. We must not give in during these times of hardship to the public domain. Indeed, it is the domain of Christ which supersedes all.
In the question of artificial birth control and contraception, it is vital to recognize its inherent disordered nature. It takes away God’s role as the Author of Life and places that power in the hands of science and individual persons. It allows one to live his life according to his terms and his convenience; the regulation of the transmission of life is not ours to alter for this belongs to God alone. These methods destroy the two-fold goods of marriage and contradict entirely the idea that the husband and wife should become one flesh, united in, by, and for the Lord Jesus Christ.