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July 27, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

Editor’s Note: If truth is stranger than fiction, as someone once said, it is also true that truth can be embedded in fiction. Take, for example, Brad Thor’s spy thriller The Apostle. Covert agent Scot Harvath is in Afghanistan to rescue an America doctor who is being held captive by the Taliban.
While approaching a remote village guarded by Taliban men with AK-47 weapons slung over their shoulders, Harvath thought how foolish it was to want to afford these men “all of the protections due signers of the Geneva and Hague conventions. Forget the fact that idiots like the Taliban weren’t signers of either Geneva or Hague, refused to appear on the battlefield wearing even so much as an armband to identify themselves as honorable combatants, and wreaked untold misery upon civilian populations — the major group the conventions were designed to protect.
“Harvath just couldn’t understand the liberal mindset. He was convinced that they believed deeply in what they said and what they did; his only problem was that it so often flew in the face of reality. They continually focused their rage on their protectors rather than their enemy. They denigrated their country, believing it was the source of all evil in the world.
“The truth was, when it came to Islam, it had been violent since its inception. Its clearly stated goal was worldwide conquest. It was a mandate handed down in all its religious texts. And while Harvath believed there were peaceful and moderate Muslims, he knew from studying the religion that there was no such thing as peaceful and moderate Islam” (p. 297).

Q. As we mark the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, I seem to recall that Pope Paul VI was not breaking new ground in 1968 when he reaffirmed the Church’s ban on contraception. Hadn’t that ban been in effect for centuries? — T.L.H., Massachusetts.
A. Yes, it had. In fact, the Church’s opposition to artificial methods of birth control goes all the way back to the first century, when the Didache, a collection of apostolic teachings, said that “you shall not use potions” to prevent the conception of a child.
In the fifth century, St. Augustine said that “intercourse even with one’s legitimate wife is unlawful and wicked where the conception of the offspring is prevented. Onan, the son of Judah, did this and the Lord killed him for it [cf. Gen. 38:10].” A similar position was taken by St. Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century and in the sixteenth century by Protestant leaders Martin Luther and John Calvin.
In fact, all Christian churches unanimously opposed contraception until 1930, when the Anglican Church of England, at its bishops’ Lambeth Conference, approved contraception “in those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence.”
This break with longstanding Christian tradition was quickly addressed by Pope Pius XI, who wrote in the encyclical Casti Connubii:
“Any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin” (n. 56).
When the Federal Council of Churches (USA) some months later endorsed “the careful and restrained use of contraceptives by married people,” they were criticized by other Christians and, interestingly, by a secular source, The Washington Post, which editorialized on March 22, 1931, that the FCC’s recommendation, “if carried into effect, would sound the death knell of marriage as a holy institution by establishing degrading practices which would encourage indiscriminate immorality.”
Pope Paul VI would echo this concern in 1968.
The Catholic Church’s prohibition of contraception was reaffirmed by Pope Pius XII in 1951, when he told a group of Italian midwives that “any attempt on the part of married people to deprive this [marital] act of its inherent force and to impede the procreation of new life, either in the performance of the act itself, or in the course of the development of its natural consequences, is immoral, and no alleged ‘indication’ or need can convert an intrinsically immoral act into a moral and lawful one.”
He said that “this precept is as valid today as it was yesterday, and it will be the same tomorrow and always because it does not imply a precept of the human law but is the expression of a law which is natural and divine.”
In his 1961 encyclical Mater et Magistra, St. John XXIII said that the passing on of human life “should be done in accord with the most sacred, permanent, inviolate prescriptions of God. Everyone without exception is bound to recognize and observe these laws. Wherefore, in this matter, no one is permitted to use methods and procedures which may indeed be permissible to check the life of plants and animals” (n. 193).
The Holy Father said that while “the provident God has bestowed upon humanity sufficient goods wherewith to bear the dignity of the burdens associated with procreation of children, this task will be difficult or even impossible if men, straying from the right road and with a perverse outlook, use the means mentioned above in a manner contrary to human reason or to their social nature and, hence, contrary to the directives of God himself” (n. 199).
In its 1965 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (nn. 47-52), the Second Vatican Council said that “marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained to the begetting and educating of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute very substantially to the welfare of their parents.”
The council said that married couples must be “ready with stout hearts to cooperate with the love of the Creator and the Savior, who through them will enlarge and enrich His own family day by day.”
But in their manner of acting, the council continued, “spouses should be aware that they cannot act arbitrarily. They must always be governed according to a conscience dutifully conformed to the divine law itself, and should be submissive to the Church’s teaching office, which authentically interprets that law in the light of the gospel.”
Therefore, the council said that “when there is a question of harmonizing conjugal love with the responsible transmission of life, the moral aspect of any procedure does not depend solely on sincere intentions or on an evaluation of motives. It must be determined by objective standards….Relying on these principles, sons of the Church may not undertake methods of regulating procreation which are found blameworthy by the teaching authority of the Church and its unfolding of the divine law.”
A footnote to this paragraph cited both Pius XI in Casti Connubii and Pius XII in his1951 address to Italian midwives.
So Blessed Paul VI was on solid ground when, on July 25, 1968, he restated the Church’s unbroken tradition on the immorality of contraception by stating that “each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life” (n. 11).
Even though a majority of a 60-member commission originally convened by John XXIII and enlarged by Paul VI to study this question had recommended a change in the teaching, the Holy Father ruled out “every action which, either 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” (n. 14).
Blessed Paul also issued a prophetic warning that the spread of contraception throughout society would lead to “conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality”; loss of respect for the woman whereby men, “no longer caring for her physical and psychological equilibrium, may come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion”; and a “dangerous weapon” in the hands of governments, which would impose on peoples “the method of contraception which they judge to be most efficacious” (n. 17).
Paul VI was excoriated for his courageous encyclical, but all of his warnings have come true with a vengeance in the past half-century. This brave Pontiff will soon be elevated to sainthood and, fittingly, the two approved miracles for his canonization involved the healing of unborn children, one in California in 1990 and the other in Italy in 2014. Both mothers refused abortions and entrusted their babies to Pope Paul. Both were born healthy.
Blessed Paul VI, pray that all married couples may be open to the transmission of life.

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Our Catholic Faith (Section B of print edition)

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