Everyone knows that millions of Catholic married couples are using contraceptives irrespective of the Church’s condemnation of the practice. What is interesting about this reality is that the common methods being used place the responsibility on either the man or the woman, but not both. This means that only one of the two is actively facilitating contraception. So, for example, what if a Catholic man has a change of heart on moral grounds and would rather his wife switch from the pill to natural family planning and she refuses? According to Pope Pius XI, he would not be culpable for the sin of contraception:
“Holy Church knows well that not infrequently one of the parties is sinned against rather than sinning, when for a grave cause he or she reluctantly allows the perversion of the right order [contraception]. In such a case, there is no sin, provided that, mindful of the law of charity, he or she does not neglect to seek to dissuade and to deter the partner from sin” (Casti Connubii, 1930, #59).
Twenty years ago Buckley wrote Nearer, My God: An Autobiography of Faith, sharing his personal thoughts and experiences as a life-long Catholic. Writing in his typical high-brow conversational manner, you might feel as though you were sitting next to him on the panel of Firing Line. And indeed there is a panel; he structured his essays around answers to questions he had posed to his unique “Forum”, a group of intellectuals that had come to the Catholic faith as adults. His insights and outlooks remain relevant and valuable today.
On the subject of contraception (chapter 12), the opinions of his Forum were divided. But Buckley doesn’t bother to engage them; the publication of Humanae Vitae rendered the question pointless. “…[T]he answer, for a Catholic, has got to be: the position of the Pope, as spokesman for the magisterium.” He shifts the conversation to a question he finds more challenging:
“It is that the law against contraception is quite simply ignored. No, not by everyone; but the data suggest that contraceptives are sold in similar quantities to Catholic and to Protestant men and women. There is no way to establish what percentage of Catholic women (or men) who use them confess to having committed a sin. And in any case, if absolution is not valid in the absence of the penitent’s subjective determination not to sin again, one must assume—simply from one’s view of crowded communion rails—either that the sin is not being confessed or else that the determination not-to-sin-again is widely irresolute.”
In July of 1968 Pope Paul VI, by issuing the encyclical HumanaeVitae, unequivocally upheld the Church’s long standing prohibition on contraception. In hindsight, we can see that its publication had created the circumstances for a divergence in birth rates between Catholics and the rest of society. This would have had a major impact on both the Church and the nation. But by means of a well-coordinated effort to discredit the encyclical, its message was disregarded. The expected divergence in birth rates turned out to be a correlation.
While it’s hard to find figures on birth rates for specific groups like Catholics, researchers from CARA have noted that the number of baptisms per 1000 Catholics in a given year is strongly correlated to the overall national birth rate which has been in decline since 1957. Continue reading “Humanae Vitae and Low Birth Rates”→
Catharism was a dualist heresy that swept through Latin Christendom during the High Middle Ages; its growing popularity alarmed Church authorities. It was called by many names (the Catholic Encyclopedia lists twenty-two) but historians prefer to refer to them collectively as Cathars (“pure ones”, or “puritans”). They believed the physical world was the creation of the evil God of the Old Testament and the spiritual world was formed by the God of the New Testament. It was just the latest version of the recurrent dualist heresies like Gnosticism and Manichaeism, but also resembles elements in contemporary secular society in disturbing ways.
This heresy’s primary requirement was the repudiation of marriage and family. Since the evil physical body was only meant to entrap spirits, marriage and procreation were forbidden. Their spirit-liberating ritual known as consolamentum, similar to the Catholic Last Rites, would be denied to children and pregnant women. Their distain for the human body was so extreme that Cathars celebrated suicide with a ritual of its own known as endura, a form of assisted suicide. Their goal was the destruction of the human race thus enabling the liberation of the spiritual world. Continue reading “Today’s Version of the Cathar Heresy”→
In 2010, Msgr. Charles Pope penned an article entitled “What is the Sign of Jonah and Has it Come Upon Us“. He focused on the Lucan version of the story, exploring the history of Jonah’s encounter with the Ninevites to come up with a deeper meaning for the “sign”. This eventually leads him to wonder if there is a similar threat which is directed at Western society today and the Church in particular, offering his own words of warning. Much has changed since 2010 and in revisiting this article Monsignor’s words seem almost prophetic.
The passage from St. Luke:
“This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. At the judgment the queen of the south will rise with the men of this generation and she will condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and there is something greater than Solomon here. At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater than Jonah here” (Luke 11:29-32).
“Held hostage by feudal customs and threatened by the Cathar heresy, the institution of marriage at the outset of the twelfth-century in Latin Christendom was in urgent need of reform. Liberating Christian Marriage in an Age of Heresy reveals for the first time the role Hildegard played in the Church’s efforts to establish its jurisdiction over the institution and restore marriage to its Christian ideal. With little consensus on matters such as indissolubility and divorce, marital consent, contraception, clerical marriage, etc., the battle for marriage would not be easily won. Called out of her cloistered life and invested by the Church with the authority of an Old Testament prophet, abbess Hildegard, guided by mystical visions, reinforces the efforts of St. Bernard of Clairvaux and the reforming popes to restore marriage to the institution God originally intended it to be.”
As I studied Hildegard’s vision of the creation and fall of man (Scivias, Book 1, Vision 2) I was surprised by the fact that she interpreted the story of Adam and Eve almost entirely in terms of sex and marriage. Scholars have suggested that this was the result of her concern about the growing heresy known as Catharism. Cathars did not believe that marriage was a valid institution and forbade procreation. Hildegard was using her vision to uphold the Church’s teaching on marriage and family. She begins with a brief description of the vision itself which is followed by 33 short chapters explaining the meaning of the symbolism with some additional commentary.
Her instruction often comes in the first person voice of God using very blunt language. Here, assuming God’s voice, she bitterly condemns the Cathars and their depraved practices:
“They are wicked murderers, killing those who join them in simplicity before they can turn back from their error; and they are wicked fornicators upon themselves, destroying their semen in an act of murder and offering it to the Devil. …By devilish illusion, they pretend to have sanctity. …By his arts he shows them things he pretends are good and holy, and thus deludes them. …And after you pour out your lust in the poisonous seed of fornication, you pretend to pray and falsely assume an air of sanctity” (Bk 2, Vis. 7, Chap. 22).
Notice that here Hildegard refers to their practice of contraception as an “act of murder”. Her instruction is unequivocally orthodox and covers all aspects of marriage: divorce and indissolubility, consent, consanguinity (incest), etc. There was clearly enough material for a short study of her teaching on marriage presented in the historical context in which her first major work, Scivias (an abbreviation of Scito vias Domini, “Know the Ways of God”) appeared.
My book clearly demonstrates that the hand of God was with the Gregorian reformers in the 12th century, particularly with respect to the institution of Christian marriage. Abbess Hildegard was called out of her cloistered life at nearly fifty years old to assist that movement in a prophetic role. This was officially acknowledged by multiple popes who not only recognized the inspired nature of Scivias, but authorized her to conduct preaching tours on the Church’s behalf. The instruction of this new Doctor of the Universal Church on sex and marriage is now on record, a time when, for the Roman Catholic Church, the subjects have taken center stage.
St. Hildegard wrote that in a period of time that precedes the Antichrist the Catholic Church will be punished for many sins, noting three in particular: fornication, rapine (theft or plunder), and murder (Scivias Book III, Vision 11, Chapter 13). The case for the first two as being present today isn’t difficult to make: the clerical sex abuse of children is probably the worst sexual scandal in Church history, and the well-documented troubles of the Institute for the Works of Religion (the Vatican Bank) should be a cause of embarrassment and anger for all Catholics (see Gerald Posner’s recent book, God’s Bankers). But what about homicide?
The murder accusation could be made for a number of reasons, like supporting an unjust war or the uncovering of murderous intrigues within the higher levels of the hierarchy. The latter likely only occurs in mystery novels and the former isn’t very conceivable; on the question of war the Church seems to be moving in the direction of pacifism.