Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Contraception: a liturgical argument.

The debate over the HHS mandate is about the 1st amendment, as it should be. The president's actions seem to violate it. But I think that, if Catholics are going to make such a big deal about the mandate, we ought and owe it to God to attempt to understand the doctrine. Here is my poor attempt to explain it.

For the official restatement of the millenia old teaching, see Paul VI Humanae Vitae. For an attempt to explain it in terms of Kant's categorical imperative, see Karol Wojtyla's Love and Responsibility. For a theological examination of the scriptures and the role of the body in salvation, see Theology of the Body by Pope John Paul II. I will try a liturgical explanation.

In my church, behind the altar we have this icon:

This is Jesus in the womb of Mary, his mother. He is portrayed as a young man to show that even as an embryo, he is God. The womb of Mary is the most holy place in all of Creation, because it is where the son of God became man. To rejoice at this occurrence, Simeon the prophet sang "Now you may dismiss your servant in peace, O Lord, for mine eyes have seen the salvation which you have promised to all peoples, a light of revelation to the gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel."

At the baptism of every baby who comes into our parish, we do the same thing. The priest takes the child in his arms, carries him into the sanctuary, and sings the same song "Now you may dismiss your servant. . . " Each birth is holy because Christ's birth was holy. Furthermore, each _conception_ is holy because Christ's conception was holy.

The womb of the woman, every woman, is a holy of holies, because it is there that God creates the immortal, eternal soul of every human being. This makes the sexual act something holy as well. (This is why pornography is such an evil thing, because it makes the greatest of gifts into trash.) To enter into this temple but refuse the gifts which God may offer you is akin to sacrilege, I think. One may as well take the body of Christ in the eucharist and vomit it up to avoid the calories!

It bears repeating that this view of sexuality is ancient. The prohibition against contraception was universal in all Christian churches until 1930. Let me give you a quote from St. John Chrysostom, writing in the fifth century about this issue:

"Where there are medicines of sterility? Where there is murder before birth? 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 despise the gift of God, and fight with his law?"

Indeed, even in the New Testament you can find writings that are probably against contraception. The NAB translates pharmakia as "sorcery", but it really means the making of potions. This is from "In the New Testament, it is possible that the Greek "pharmakeia" refers to the birth control issue. "Pharmakeia" in general was the mixing of various potions for secret purposes, and it is known that potions were mixed in the first century A.D. to prevent or stop a pregnancy. The typical translation as "sorcery" may not reveal all of the specific practices condemned by the New Testament. In all three of the passages in which it appears, it is in a context condemning sexual immorality; two of the three passages also condemn murder. (Galatians 5:19-26; Revelation 9:21, 21:8). Thus it is very possible that there are three New Testament passages condemning the use of the products of "pharmakeia" for birth control purposes."

It was the universal teaching of the Church, of all Churches. Should such a teaching get universal mockery?

We now take the great mystery of the creation of new human souls, and our participation in it, and we stop it, we limit it, we sterilize it. Perhaps we should approach the mystery with reverence, and, if for some grave reason we cannot accept the new life God may give us, we should abstain with prayer and fasting, rather than with pills and prophylactics?

I don't expect to convince anyone. On this issue, the culture has gone so far from the faith that it's really difficult to make any headway. But perhaps, someone might reconsider, or at least realize that opposition to contraception is a rational position based on faith.


Paige said...

*roaring applause from the peanut gallery* (reality: vigorous head-nodding at my desk in my office on lunch break).

Throwback said...

The Return of Karl!