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15:42, 3 December 2012
When I was a Protestant teenager, someone close to me shared how they believed women could become pastors. Up to that point in my life, I had always adhered to the more conservative view that only men were called by God to that role. And frankly, it was unusual that this particular person espoused the more liberal view, given that otherwise they are very conservative.
So I did what any good Protestant would do: I went to the Bible. I attempted to show this person the various verses from St. Paul which stated women were not to have authority over men, etc. They in turn argued that Paul only said those things to quell women who were causing disruption in certain churches. The apostle didn't mean it to be taken universally and literally, otherwise he would have been (get ready for this) a ''sexist''.
I was temporarily persuaded by this argument, until I re-read the controversial verses more thoroughly. To make a long story short (this essay isn't on women's ordination, after all), I simply couldn't get around the force of Paul's statements. The things he said did not seem to be the simple angry rhetoric used against gossiping women – no, he was asserting that God has different roles for women in church and society than men. It's a natural part of their femininity. It's not that women are not equal to men, it's just that the Lord has other plans for them than being priestesses.<ref>I know some Protestants object to the word “priest” being applied to certain Christian ministers. However, many don't realize that the word “priest” is simply derived from the word “presbyter”, which is itself found in the original Greek of the New Testament as “presbuteros” (“πρεσβύτερος”). It simply means “elder”, and very early on in the Church it came do designate the ministers who presided over the Eucharist. In English, the word “priest” denotes both Christian presbyters and Jewish temple ministers; in the Greek New Testament, however, these Jewish ministers have a separate name, “hiereus” (“ἱερεύς”). It is proper to use either priest or presbyter when describing “elders” in the Catholic Church, as both mean the same thing. I should also note that Christian presbyters are intrinsically different from Jewish priests. The latter hold the priesthood on their own, offering repeated sacrifices of their own. The former are not priests of themselves, however, but simply share in Christ's priesthood (it belongs properly to Him alone), being the instruments of Christ's ''one'' sacrifice (not many), which is re-presented (not re-performed) in the sacrifice of the Eucharist. St. Paul clearly speaks of the Eucharist as a sacrifice in 1 Cornithians 10:14-22. Note how he compares pagans eating meat sacrificed to demons on the “table of demons”, and then describes Christians partaking of the Eucharist on the “table of the Lord.” Thus, the word “table” here is a synomym for “altar.” The early Christians were also quite clear that the Eucharist is a sacrifice.</ref>
To me, it seemed that the person I had been debating with was taking modern feminist ideology (which is very new, having only been around about a hundred years or so) and trying to re-interpret the Scriptures in a more liberal sense to suit those newer values; and this is against the traditional view that had been around since Christianity's inception. For fear of being labeled “sexist”, modern folk water down the Lord's teachings about masculinity and femininity. The way the Scriptures and Christian tradition have walked hand-in-hand on this issue since the time of Christ until very recently should be more than enough proof that women cannot receive priestly ordination.<ref>Though women cannot currently be ordained into any of the sacramental Orders (diaconate, presbyterate, and episcopate), there is conclusive evidence from the early Church that women did function to some extent as deaconesses. This is because in ancient times people were baptized completely naked. Since male deacons obviously couldn't perform this task for women candidates, other women did the job instead. The evidence does not warrant the conclusion, however, that these women received the “laying on of hands” mentioned by St. Paul, or any special grace like that which is confered on male deacons. Canon 19 of the Council of Nicaea (held in AD 325) seems to indicate that deaconesses were not ordained sacramentally.</ref>
After this debate, a rather ominous thought came into my mind: If modern Christians could say that traditional beliefs concerning women's roles are “sexist”, will Christians a hundred years from now be saying that gay “marriage” is completely acceptable, and call those who are against it “homophobes”? Indeed, there's a decent minority of Christians already doing this very thing. But maybe in the next century it will actually come to be considered the ''normal'' view in the mainline Protestant denominations!
It gets worse, though: Think of the second and third generations of Christians who would grow up in that era. How easy would it be for them to accept the mores of their culture, without even asking questions? Their consciences would be totally seared by the generations of “progressives” who had come before them, and they'd simply never realize that supporting gay “marriage” is thoroughly offensive to God.
The whole idea is quite frightening, isn't it? And unfortunately, I feel it is going to come true. But here's a scary question we need to ask ''ourselves'': If those future Christians wouldn't suspect that they're being mislead, are we just as susceptible to the same kind of deception? What if our consciences are ''already'' seared by our society's secularizing values? Are we so prideful and self-confident as to think that couldn't have happened to <u>us</u>?
We need to honestly consider the possibility, though. ''Have'' we been led to believe that some behavior is acceptable to God, when in fact we are sinning against the Lord grievously? Back when I was a non-denominational Christian, I wouldn't have had any clear answer to that question.<ref>While this is off-topic, I may have actually had a half-answer. The way we casually throw around terms like “holy cow!” or “screw that” may not offend the Lord ''grievously'', but could still offend Him nonetheless. Why do we take a term such as “holy”, which means close or consecrated to God, and join it to another word (even one relatively benign) to form an epithet? And the phrase “screw that”, even though we have come to forget its original meaning, is actually quite vulgar. Our grandparents would wince at our usage of it, because it has the same definition as the “F word”. Again, why do we take something that is holy (in this case, the marital embrace) or the very word “holy” itself and turn it into a common expletive? I am of the opinion that we Christians should carefully re-evaluate our vocabulary and not allow it to be influenced by the secular world, but by the Spirit instead.</ref> But then I began researching the tenets of the Catholic Church, and I took a history book to the brain.
As we all know (and despite what many poorly catechized or unfaithful Catholics will tell you), the Church is formally against the use of artificial birth control.<ref>In certain instances, the Church will permit some kinds of contraception (like the Pill) to be used to treat a medical condition, so long as (a) all negative side-effects, such as the artificial prevention of pregnancy, are not directly intended, and (b) the positive results sufficiently outweigh the negative effects.</ref> It is actually considered a grave sin, to the extent that if one voluntarily used contraception while fully knowing it's sinfulness, that person would lose their justification with God.<ref>The doctrine that one may lose their state of justification (“right standing”) with God, and thus their salvation should they die in that state, is not foreign at all to Scripture. Almost every book of the New Testament contains some kind of warning against falling away. St. Paul writes of it in the various lists of sins which he warns will keep people from the Kingdom of God (see Galatians 5:19-21 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10); St. Peter states that someone who has escaped the defilement of the world through Christ, only to become entangled again in the flesh, would have been better off never knowing about Christ at all (see 2 Peter 2:20-22); St. James declares that faith without works will not save a person (see James 2), and at the end of his epistle declares that if a brother returns to the Faith after leaving it, their soul will be spared from death, and many sins will be covered (see James 5:19-20); St. John mentions the possibility of losing one's salvation through sin at the end of his first letter (see 1 John 5:16-17 – note that the Greek word John employs for “life” is “ζωήν” or “zōēn”, which means spiritual life, so John is not contrasting physical life and death but spiritual life and death); Our Lord Himself declares that, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:12-13) This wording makes no sense if one is “saved no matter what” at their profession of faith or baptism. There are many other passages that could be listed as well – these are just a sampling.</ref> What most people ''don't'' know is that before modern times, ''every'' Christian denomination was against contraception! It was ''taken for granted'' that to artificially or unnaturally block the chance for life to result from marital relations was to sin grievously.
Martin Luther, speaking about Onan<ref>The story of Onan, found in Genesis 38:8-10, is the chief Scriptural passage which offers an implicit condemnation of contraception. Essentially, Onan's father Judah commanded him to have intercourse with his deceased brother's wife, Tamar, in order to raise up offspring for her, since she was childless. This was Onan's “duty”, according to the passage, though the law about continuing family lines hadn't yet been recorded in Scripture. Onan did apparently take Tamar into his household, but we are told that whenever he went to have intercourse with her, he used the “withdrawal method” of contraception, spilling his semen on the ground. God then became angry at Onan for his wickedness, and took his life in punishment. Traditionally, Christians have interpreted this story to mean that all unnatural sexual acts (i.e., ones that don't have a man climaxing inside his wife) are gravely sinful. A condemnation of masturbation is therefore also seen in this passage. The quick modernist answer to this interpretation is that Onan was punished for failing to bring up children for Tamar, not for his contraception. While initially this may seem to be a good response, a problem occurs when we consider that in Deuteronomy 25:7-10, the punishment given for refusing to continue the family line of one's brother is not death but merely humiliation. Further, in Genesis 38:11-26, we learn that Judah refused to give his son Shelah to Tamar after Onan's death, but God didn't kill Judah for his disobedience as well. We are therefore left with the only other reasonable conclusion: The Lord took Onan's life not just because he refused to give Tamar children, but also for his unnatural intercourse with her. Other interpretations do exist of course (as with any other biblical passage involving mere implication), but none explain the passage as adequately as the traditional view, in my opinion. These interpretations would include the idea that God lowered his standards of punishment by the time of Deuteronomy, that Judah wasn't responsible for raising offspring up for Tamar in the same way as Onan, that Onan was killed for disobeying his father, etc.</ref> in Genesis 38 (who refused to fulfill his duty of impregnating his deceased brother's wife by practicing withdrawal), said, “[T]he exceedingly foul deed of Onan, the basest of wretches, follows... Onan must have been a malicious and incorrigible scoundrel. This is a most disgraceful sin. It is far more atrocious than incest and adultery. We call it unchastity, yes a Sodomitic sin. For Onan goes in to her; that is, he lies with her and copulates, and when it comes to the point of insemination, spills the semen, lest the woman conceive. Surely at such a time the order of nature established by God in procreation should be followed. Accordingly, it was a most disgraceful crime to produce semen and excite the woman, and to frustrate her at that very moment. He was inflamed with the basest spite and hatred. Therefore he did not allow himself to be compelled to bear that intolerable slavery. Consequently, he deserved to be killed by God. He committed an evil deed. Therefore God punished him....That worthless fellow... preferred polluting himself with a most disgraceful sin to raising up offspring for his brother.”<ref>Luther's Works, Vol. 7, p. 20-21.</ref>
Calvin was also harsh on birth control: “The voluntary spilling of semen outside of intercourse between man and woman is a monstrous thing. Deliberately to withdraw from coitus in order that semen may fall on the ground is doubly monstrous. For this is to extinguish the hope of the race and to kill before he is born the hoped-for offspring.”<ref>Calvin's Commentary on Gen. 38:8-10, translated from the Latin, as quoted in: Provan, C. ''The bible and birth control''. Monongahela, PA: Zimmer Printing, 1989. 68. Print.</ref>
And John Wesley echoed the same cry as well: “Those sins that dishonor the body are very displeasing to God, and the evidence of vile affections. Observe, the thing which [Onan] did displeased the Lord—and it is to be feared; thousands, especially of single persons, by this very thing, still displease the Lord, and destroy their own souls.”<ref>Wesley's Notes on the Bible, Genesis 38:7.</ref>
There are many other non-Catholic Christian leaders who could be quoted as well. If one wants to further research the original, conservative Protestant view of contraception, the late Charles D. Provan has a book called ''The Bible and Birth Control''.<ref>Provan, C. ''The bible and birth control''. Monongahela, PA: Zimmer Printing, 1989. Print.</ref> It contains much more information about traditional Protestant beliefs concerning this issue.
The early Christians were also firmly against contraception. St. Augustine, the famous bishop of Hippo, said, “I am supposing, then, although you are not lying [with your wife] for the sake of procreating offspring, you are not for the sake of lust obstructing their procreation by an evil prayer or an evil deed. Those who do this, although they are called husband and wife, are not; nor do they retain any reality of marriage, but with a respectable name cover a shame. Sometimes this lustful cruelty, or cruel lust, comes to this, that they even procure poisons of sterility.”<ref>St. Augustine of Hippo, ''Marriage and Concupiscence'', 1:15:17.</ref>
And lest anyone discount Augustine's words because of his rather strict view of sex and marriage in general, he is not alone. St. Clement of Alexandria, writing a couple hundred years before him (about AD 191), said, “Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted.”<ref>St. Clement of Alexandria, ''The Instructor of Children'', 2:10:91:2.</ref>
And the Byzantine East is not to be ignored either. St. John Chrysostom, the illustrious preacher and archbishop of Constantinople, said this around AD 391: “Why do you sow where the field is eager to destroy the fruit, where there are medicines of sterility [oral contraceptives], where there is murder before birth? You do not even let a harlot remain only a harlot, but you make her a murderess as well… Indeed, it is something worse than murder, and I do not know what to call it; for she does not kill what is formed but prevents its formation. What then? Do you condemn the gift of God and fight with his [natural] laws?… Yet such turpitude… the matter still seems indifferent to many men; even to many men having wives. In this indifference of the married men there is greater evil filth; for then poisons are prepared, not against the womb of a prostitute, but against your injured wife. Against her are these innumerable tricks”.<ref>St. John Chrysostom, “Homily 24 on Romans”, (PG 60: 626-627), quoted in book: Noonan, John T., Jr. ''Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists''. Harvard Univ. Press, 1986. 98. Print.</ref> Harsh indeed!
As one can imagine, I was surprised to learn about the real history of “birth control.” But something else surprised me just as much as the universal condemnation from the pre-modern Christian world, if not more – it was the reason this condemnation changed to acceptance. How did that happen? Read very carefully.
In 1929, a woman named Margaret Sanger entered the world's spotlight by founding the “National Committee on Federal Legislation for Birth Control” in the United States.<ref>"National Committee on Federal Legislation on Birth Control." ''Margaret Sanger Papers Project''. (2010). Web. 23 Oct. 2012. <http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sanger/secure/aboutms/organization_ncflbc.html>.</ref> Her aim in creating this group was to lobby for “birth control rights” (she actually coined the term birth control). Sanger was a eugenicist, i.e., someone who believes that society should better itself by eliminating the “weaker” people from its ranks (Does this sound familiar? Adolf Hitler was also a eugenicist, though of a different sort.). Margaret's plan was to introduce contraception into mainstream society, especially to the “weaker” population, in order to keep them from procreating.<ref>"'The Sanger-Hitler Equation' #32, Winter 2002/3." ''Margaret Sanger Papers Project''. (2011). Web. 23 Oct. 2012. <http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sanger/secure/newsletter/articles/sanger-hitler_equation.html>.</ref>
Around this same time (1930 to be exact), the Church of England held one of its decennial Lambeth Conferences. These conferences are important, as they touch on matters pertaining to the entire worldwide Anglican communion, one of the largest Christian communions in the world. Under the influence of Sanger and other social progressives like her, the conference passed a cautious resolution stating that, “Where there is a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, complete abstinence is the primary and obvious method,” but if morally sound reasons to avoid abstinence exist, “the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of Christian principles.”<ref>“Contraception.” ''churchofengland.org''. (2012). Web. 23 Oct. 2012. <http://www.churchofengland.org/our-views/medical-ethics-health-social-care-policy/contraception.aspx?>.</ref><ref>Kippley, John F. “'Casti Cannubii': 60 Years Later, More Relevant Than Ever.” ''Homiletic & Pastoral Review''. (1991). Web. 23 Oct. 2012. <http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARRIAGE/CASTI.TXT>.</ref> This was the first time a major Protestant denomination approved of contraception.<ref>Saunders, Fr. William P. "The History of Contraception Teachings." ''Arlington Catholic Herald'' [Arlington, VA] 02 Nov 1995. Print. <http://www.ewtn.com/library/ANSWERS/HISTCONT.HTM>.</ref> Cautious or not, Pandora's Box was opened.
Pleased with her efforts thus far, Sanger continued her “activist” work. In 1942, she helped create an organization I'm sure we're all familiar with: Planned Parenthood. While most Christians think of this group as being an abortion monopoly, it did not start out that way. Their original aim was to ''make artificial birth control mainstream''. In 1965, the group successfully appealed a Connecticut law banning contraception, getting it ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.<ref>Griswold v. Connecticut; see also: Matas, Justin. "An Examination of Three Notable U.S. Supreme Court Cases." (2010): 7-12. Print.</ref>
Henceforth, birth control infiltrated America like a disease. By this time, the great majority of Protestant denominations had compromised their standards on the issue. Even the uber-conservative Eastern Orthodox Church started to wobble in its stance, and more and more of its bishops began allowing contraception. Only the Catholic Church<ref>In 1968, while most Christian denominations were capitulating to Planned Parenthood and moral “progressives”, Pope Paul VI released his most famous encyclical, ''Humanae Vitae''. In this document he emphatically restated the traditional teaching of the Church, declaring abortion and contraception to be morally illicit.</ref>, the Old Order Amish<ref>Actually, the Old Order Amish, with their usual caution in regards to anything they consider “worldly”, not only forbid artificial contraception, but even natural methods of birth-spacing (which the Catholic Church allows under some circumstances).</ref>, and other small groups held firmly to the traditional teaching.
Naturally, once birth control was deeply embedded in society, Planned Parenthood continued on its anti-Christian mission. They lobbied next for abortion, and this, of course, received a pass from the Supreme Court as well in ''Roe v. Wade''. Now if pills and condoms didn't prevent a child from being conceived, Planned Parenthood could simply kill them instead.
And that is where we stand, with most Christians (until recently, myself included) being blissfully ignorant of the true history of contraception. Our consciences have been seared by Planned Parenthood and the Nazi-like eugenicists, and we don't even know it. I was shocked by this newly-discovered information, and couldn't believe Planned Parenthood, an organization I detest to this day, was largely responsible for forming my moral values on sexual ethics! And perhaps more shocking is that the Catholic Church managed to do what I had always believed was pretty much impossible: change my mind on birth control, and the role of marriage in general.
But it wasn't merely history that caused this change of mind. I can imagine some of my readers asking: ''Why'' does the Church oppose contraception? And what about the challenge from some non-Catholic Christians who say the Bible doesn't forbid it? I will answer the latter question first, and then proceed to explain (briefly) the Catholic teaching on marriage and sexuality in order to answer the former.
Despite becoming aware of “birth control's” dirty past, some Christians will undoubtedly still refuse to stop using it, citing the fact that the Bible is silent on the issue. “If there's no law in Scripture,” they argue, “then it's not a sin.” This kind of reasoning shows exactly why the Catholic teaching of Sacred Tradition is so important. In the Bible, St. Paul tells the Thessalonian Christians to “...stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” (2 Thess. 2:15) The earliest Christians knew nothing of the Protestant idea that the Bible alone is the sole authority of our faith. The Scriptures themselves don't even say such a thing.<ref>The difference between Catholics and Protestants on this issue is actually more subtle than it first seems. Protestants say that the Bible contains the entirety of Christian doctrine, at least implicitly. Catholics do not actually dispute this, as it is a valid theological opinion that the Bible is a materially sufficient guide to the Faith. St. Paul, in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, appears to say as much. What he ''doesn't'' say, however, is that the Scriptures are the highest (much less the sole) authority for our Faith, as Protestantism alleges. Whereas Protestants rely only on their own interpretations of the Bible, Catholics believe the proper interpretation of the Faith is passed on and preserved by the Holy Spirit in the line of bishops who succeed the apostles. It is this view which was clearly and unmistakeably held by the Early Church Fathers (see note 22, below, for a sampling of references from these early witnesses).</ref>
Rather, as far back as St. Clement of Rome (who is actually mentioned in the New Testament) we find out that the apostles set up men to succeed them in their apostolic ministry. These men, called "episkopoi" or bishops, were to teach the laity all that the apostles passed on to them in letter or word of mouth, and the laity were obliged to listen and obey faithfully.<ref>See: Pope St. Clement of Rome, ''Letter to the Corinthians'' (c. AD 97); Epistles of St. Ignatius of Antioch (c. AD 110); St. Irenaeus of Lyons, ''Against Heresies'', III:2:2 and III:3 (c. AD 180).</ref> Contraception, while not explicitly prohibited in Scripture, <u>is</u> condemned throughout every age of Christianity, especially by the succession of bishops the apostles themselves instituted.
Besides, logic alone should be enough to show us that the Bible was never meant to be taken as a comprehensive moral guide. If it was, then Protestants have no business condemning polygamous Mormons or the southern American slaveholders. Ask any Christian whether they believe slavery or polygamy is wrong, and they will immediately answer “Yes!” And then ask where those two things are prohibited in Scripture. You won't get a direct answer. ''That's because there isn't one''.
Neither slavery nor polygamy are ever condemned in the Bible. Jesus never told the Jews off for marrying multiple wives, and St. Paul even appears to condone it in his instructions to St. Timothy! In Paul's first letter to him, the apostle tells Timothy that only a man who is a “husband of one wife” can be ordained a bishop (Titus 2:15 KJV). This seems to imply that everyone else can be polygamous! (There is, of course, an alternate interpretation, which is that Paul meant only a man who had had no more than one wife in his ''lifetime'' could become a bishop, and not a man who had had multiple monogamous marriages).
Some Christians will respond with the anti-polygamous argument from Matthew 19, where the Lord tells the Pharisees, “'Haven’t you read... that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.... Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.”
The argument goes like this: Jesus tells the Pharisees that Moses made concessions to the Jews because of their stubbornness, but when mankind was first created, this was not so. In the beginning, polygamy was sinful, and so therefore it has become sinful again since Jesus restored marriage to its primordial state. Further, the Lord mentions that the “two” shall become one, not the “many.”
This is all well and good, and Catholics hold that this argument is solid, because our Sacred Tradition validates that this is indeed what Jesus meant. But from a “Bible alone” standpoint, which cannot have Tradition as an authority over Scripture, there's a problem. The first thing to notice is that what we have here is an ''implication'', and nothing more. Certainly not a law against polygamy. Second, going only off of the Scriptures, we have no proof that God didn't allow polygamy in the times of Genesis. Just because He didn't create multiple wives for Adam doesn't mean He disapproved of it, and just because Genesis mentions “two” doesn't mean someone couldn't be married to multiple people. After all, marriage ceremonies are always between two individuals, whether the man involved is polygamous or not. One man always marries one woman and they become “one flesh”, even if the man is already one flesh with other women.
Again, all we have here is implication. And because there are multiple interpretations available, I can't see how a “Bible only” Christian could accuse a polygamous person of sin. Remember the person who I mentioned above, the one I debated with? In another conversation I had with them, I got them to admit that very fact – they couldn't tell other Christians that monogamy is the only acceptable and non-sinful form of marriage!
So, unless we want to admit slavery and polygamy, we cannot say the Bible explicitly contains the entire moral code established by God. But if we say the Bible ''doesn't'' explicitly contain the full moral code, then we open the doors to the possibility of contraception being a sin, even though it's not clearly condemned in Scripture (though implicitly in the story of Onan, per Luther, Calvin and Wesley). And this is precisely what Catholics and traditional Protestants maintain.
Now that we have answered that question, it is time to answer the second: ''Why'' does the Catholic Church teach that contraception is immoral? This question could take pages and pages of explanation, because it touches all areas of the doctrine of marriage, but I will try to keep it short.
Essentially, as I mentioned above, Jesus told the Pharisees that in “the beginning” marriage was held in higher regard by God and man. In so doing, and through His prohibition of divorce and implicit condemnation of polygamy, He was restoring marriage to its original dignity. In Western Catholic language, we would say He elevated it to the level of a Sacrament (a very holy sign or reality that is a powerful channel of God's grace).<ref>In the Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox tradition, Sacraments are termed “Holy Mysteries.” The Latin word “Sacrament” is actually derived from the Greek word “mysterion” (“μυστηρίων”). As one can see from the New Testament (the word occurs there twenty-eight times), it originally meant any holy doctrine or practice revealed by God. Over time, the Christian West began to use the term to refer exclusively to the seven institutions that convey special grace from God (Baptism, Confirmation/Chrismation, the Eucharist, Confession, Anointing of the Sick, Ordination and Marriage). The Christian East (both Catholic and Orthodox) has always been hesitant, however, to specify the exact number of Holy Mysteries.</ref>
Now, in the beginning, God made humans male and female. He intended that a man and a woman come together in marriage and become “one flesh.” They would unite so closely that they could be treated as one single entity. Marriage would be such a powerful bond that God even used it (in the Song of Songs, Paul's writings, and Revelation) as an analogy of His love for His people. It's an image or “icon” of His relationship with us.
Now, how do a man and a woman become one flesh? Is it by the simple fact that they are married? In a way, yes, but not strictly. The couple becomes one flesh when they ''consummate the marriage'' (hence the very term “consummate”!). St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:16, “Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, 'The two will become one flesh.'” Having intercourse with someone makes you one flesh with that person, even outside of the legal marriage bond!
Sex is not just a physical act. It is not just a way to express love. It is not just a way to procreate. It is ALL of those things. But first and foremost, <u>'''''sex is very holy'''''</u>. I cannot stress that enough. There is no way two human beings can be any closer than through sex. It actually makes them “one in body” and is a very icon of God's deep love for us. It even allows them to share in God's own creative work by bringing an entirely new soul into the world for God to love! A soul who wouldn't have existed but for the couple becoming one flesh with each other.
Marriage is supposed to be a lifelong institution of giving. As a wise Byzantine priest once told me, “Selfishness is the worst word in marriage.” That's because selfishness is completely antithetical to this institution's purpose. God created marriage for two reasons: First, to bring new souls into the world, and second, to let the husband and wife mirror the love God has for us – a sign to remind us always of our true purpose, which is communion with Him.
In marriage we are supposed to give ourselves ''completely'' to our spouse and children, making whatever sacrifices are necessary. The wife should care for her husband and respect him, allowing him to oversee the family as a whole and obeying his decisions (she images the Church). The husband should give all of himself for the care and protection of his wife, loving her more than anyone but God Himself, always thinking of her and their children's well-being above his own. He should be willing to give his very life for her, as Jesus did for the Church (the husband is an image of Christ).
So it is for marriage in general, so it is for marital relations. Selfishness is antithetical to sex – instead the husband and wife should give themselves completely to one another. The couple enters into such an intimate union, that (pardon the graphic language) part of the man actually enters into and becomes part of the woman, and “one fleshhood” results. And if the conditions in the woman are right, a whole new life could even be brought into existence. Did you ever hear how the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and Son's love for One Another, that He actually ''is'' the Love of the Father and Son? It's basically the same here! The love between man and wife is so intense, that in nine months it may require a name. Sex is an icon of the Trinity itself.
So where does contraception fit in to all this? ''It doesn't'', and that's exactly the point. Contraception diminishes the couple's union in the marriage act, and thus hinders them from fully becoming one flesh (if it doesn't prevent it altogether). It tarnishes the image of God's love for the Church, and attempts to frustrate even the chance of procreation. The reasons sex and marriage were even created in the first place are thus severely impeded.
The essential things wrong with contraception are the ''mindset'' and ''unnaturalness'' involved. Many people think the Catholic Church is anti-sex. It couldn't be more opposite, however. Rather, the Church considers sex so wonderful, so powerful, so capable of drawing us to God, and therefore so ''holy'', that it forbids ''any'' alteration of it. The Church insists it must be observed and practiced ''as God designed it''.
Condoms, diaphragms and ''coitus interruptus'' block the man from transferring all of himself to the woman, and thus it prevents the couple from being one flesh. In failing to become one flesh, contracepting couples fail to image God and the Church. Their mindset is also geared towards treating children as a secondary aspect to their marriage instead of what they truly are: the supreme gift and crown of their vocation (the sanctification, love and unity of the spouses themselves are also essential gifts of marriage, and are the means of achieving and nurturing the supreme gift).<ref>Second Vatican Council, ''Gaudium et Spes'', 48-50.</ref><ref>This teaching of the Church should not be misconstrued so as to exclude infertile couples from the married state. Provided a couple can actually consummate their marriage (i.e., neither the man nor the woman are impotent), then they are free to marry, even if it is impossible for them to procreate. This is because the couple is still able to naturally become one flesh through intercourse, and they can find other suitable ways of fulfilling their vocation of raising up offspring for the Lord (such as through adoption or ministry).</ref>
The Pill and sterilization both treat a healthy (and very sacred) part of the body as if it had a disease. Fertility is not a disease. God didn't give us reproductive organs for us to destroy them. Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and it doesn't belong to us; it's not something for us to do with as we please. Plus (and many Christians are unaware of this), the Pill has a back-up mechanism in case it fails to prevent ovulation: It prevents the fertilized egg from implanting in the mother's womb. The result? <u>'''''An abortion.'''''</u><ref>Reynolds, Thomas. "The Unheard-of Holocaust: Abortifacient Contraception." ''Celebrate Life.'' (2012). Web. 19 Nov. 2012. <http://www.all.org/article/index/id/MTA3MTk/>.</ref> So now we're adding murder on top of impeding one-flesh unity, unnaturally disrupting our body's functions, and temple defacement.
And as if it couldn't get any worse, women using the Pill have an increased risk of breast cancer. Even after they stop taking it, the risk will still be at an increased level for up to ''ten years''. Plus, for women under the age of eighteen, the chances of contracting triple negative breast cancer (one of the most lethal kinds) can be multiplied by <u>3.7 times</u>. For recent users, it can be multiplied by <u>4.2 times</u>. And yet these facts are hardly ever reported by the media.<ref>Collins, Dr. Tim. "The Pill and Breast Cancer." ''The American Thinker''. (2010). Web. 26 Nov. 1995. <http://www.americanthinker.com/2010/02/the_pill_and_breast_cancer.html>.</ref> It shouldn't surprise any of us that when we pump our bodies full of chemicals in a manner inconsistent with God's design, harmful side-effects are quite likely to result.
In contrast to all this, couples who do not use birth control completely mirror God's relationship with His people, in that they never hold anything back from each other in the marital embrace. And they are always aware of the supreme gift of their marriage: the bringing of more souls into the world to love God. They are aware of this even when they are ''naturally'' trying to space the births of their children for a serious reason (many people know that the Church only allows “natural” methods of birth-spacing, but few realize that even ''this'' can be sinful if the couple doesn't have a serious reason for the delay).<ref>The Venerable Pope Pius XII, “Address to the Italian Catholic Union of Midwives”; Pope Paul VI, ''Humanae Vitae'', 16.</ref>
These couples realize that their whole bodies are sacred, especially the organs that allow them to share in God's creative work, which have a particularly sacred purpose. What master would be pleased if he found out that his servant, whom he had charged with looking after his beautiful castle, had decided to damage or even demolish an entire section of it because it “gets in his way”? But that is exactly what we do to God when we take the Pill or sterilize ourselves.
Our bodies are not mere shells for us to dwell in, while the “real us” is actually invisible. No, our bodies are part of ''who we are'', and to try to completely separate them from our souls is to fall into the Gnostic-like way of thinking that spirit is good, but matter is evil (unfortunately this is a common trend in modern Protestantism).<ref>The Gnostics were heretics who opposed the Catholic Church during the first few centuries after Christ, setting up their own sects. They held numerous and varying false doctrines, but a common theme among them was denial of Christ's humanity and condemnation of physical matter as evil. They were vigorously reproved by the apostles and the lawful bishops who succeeded them.</ref> Why then will our bodies be raised from the dead when Christ returns triumphant? God won't destroy our bodies – He will glorify them! They will be with us for eternity.
Couples who avoid contraception treat their bodies and their sexuality with the highest respect, using them exactly as the Lord designed them. And in so doing, they experience greater levels of intimacy than they would if contraception was involved. Hardly anything is more satisfying in a marriage than giving ''all'' of yourself to your beloved, becoming ''completely'' one flesh with them, holding nothing back. There are biological reasons for this intimacy too. Chemicals are exchanged between the couple when they have intercourse naturally, and over time these chemicals heighten the couple's overall closeness throughout their daily life.<ref>Popcak, Gregory K. ''Holy Sex!: A Catholic Guide to Toe-curling, Mind-blowing, Infallible Loving''. New York: Crossroad Pub., 2008. 135-136. Print.</ref>
As I said above, one reason why contraception is wrong is because it's ''unnatural''. It's interesting to note that the reason contraception is a sin is actually the same for why homosexuality is a sin as well. Gay “marriage” and sexual activity are wrong because they are unnatural. Homosexual couples take a spiritual institution and a bodily function and use them in ways God did not design.
Despite this fact, most Christians (even most Catholic Christians, unfortunately) don't see how the same principal applies to contraception, in that it also distorts the natural functions of sexual activity. In more extreme cases, contraception goes so far as to damage these functions that God designed for us, and even kills unborn babies. But it is all passed off as acceptable, while homosexuality is condemned. Why? Because whereas homosexuality isn't a stumbling block for most Christians personally (since most are straight), not using contraception is seen as a large inconvenience.
But yet, as with the Christian life in general, what is hard is also very rewarding. It is my prayer that everyone takes to heart what I have written and puts aside any preconceived prejudices they may have in order to look objectively at this very important issue. Even if some don't agree with everything the Catholic Church teaches, I hope my readers now realize that this is not a “Protestant vs. Catholic” issue – contraception was once universally condemned by every branch of Christendom.
We have all been lied to by Planned Parenthood and the liberalized non-Catholic denominations that some of us grew up in, and I earnestly desire that Christians return to thinking of marriage and sexuality as God intended. As St. Augustine said of our hearts, so it can be said of our marriages: They will be restless, until they rest in God. God bless everyone and may all of us be in the grace of Christ.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
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