I recently was given a copy of John F. Kippley’s book Sex and the Marriage Covenant: A Basis for Morality which, among other things, attempts to justify Natural Family Planning, or NFP. Remember, as far as I can tell, this stance is not supported by the Catholic Catechism so his task must be to justify it based on some sort of more direct scriptural evidence. He devotes a full third of his book, chapters 11, 12, 13, and 14 to what he calls “the Controversy”. That’s a LOT of text, so I’m going to examine them a chapter at a time. First, Chapter 11.
This is probably going to be a long one, so click the link to read the extended entry.
Chapter 11 is titled “The Historical Context”, and its aim is to explain the historical context of the Church’s apparent objection to contraception. First, Mr. Kippley makes a few points:
- Contraception dates back to 1,900 B.C.
- Contraception has been objected to as early as the Gnostics in 100 A.D.
- The Catholic Church has constantly rejected contraception, right up until the 1960’s
This is an interesting argument. If we take at face value the fact that contraception is very old, then it’s interesting that he makes the claim that the Church has always been against it. He doesn’t explain why, then, Jesus never mentioned it, the Apostles of the Church of the New Testament never brought it up, it wasn’t included in the Nicene Creed (formulated in 325 A.D. and finalized in 381 A.D.), none of the decrees of the Council of Trent (1545-1563) mention it, and neither did the First Vatican Council (1869-1870). He does not reveal yet that the reason things were very interesting in the 1960’s was quite serious. In 1962 Pope John XXIII set up a Pontifical Council to study the question of contraception. Before the council could complete its recommendations, a new Pope came to power, Pope Paul VI, who then rejected the council’s recommendation. The history is explained here:
On April 6, 1966 the four theologians on the Commission admits that they cannot show the intrinsic evil of contraception on the basis of the natural law alone. Their total inability to do so is alarming for those who wish to defend the tradition. The Commission’s conclusion is that the decision should be left to the individual couple, not as an arbitrary choice, but as a conscientious one, made in the light of a complex set of values.
Dr. Andre Hellegers, a member of the ignored Commission: “I cannot believe that salvation is based on contraception by temperature and damnation is based upon rubber.”
The Commission’s recommendation was ignored by Pope Paul VI, obviously, but this recommendation is not a trivial thing. Mr. Kippley does not even allude to the serious objections to the policy raised by the commission (which he examines in Chapter 13), nor does he explain the curious lack of condemnation of contraception in all of the major historical writings of the Church. Instead he suggests that the Holy Spirit had been leading the Church in a uniform and lockstep manner, right up until then, and trivializes the conclusions of the Pontifical Council. He seems rather exultant at this point, rather than seriously examining the point.
It occurs to me is to ask what is unique about the 1960’s that might make the Holy Spirit abandon the Church and allow their supposedly formerly unified mentality to disintegrate. I notice that in the 1960’s the estrogen level enforcement regimen, also known as The Pill, was made available to the public (after being invented in 1953). Perhaps the two are related? Or maybe the Devil drove the Holy Spirit out? If the Holy Spirit was keeping the Church unified prior to the 1960’s, there surely must be a reason it ceased to do so.
Next, Kippley asserts that the Catholic objection to contraception has taken many forms throughout history, each in keeping with the current contraceptive technology. Rather than quote Catholics, here, it is interesting to note that Kippley resorts exclusively to Protestant examples. He calls as examples the American evangelical reformer, Anthony Comstock, and writings by the Church of England in the early 1900’s. He then notes that despite this recent history of condemnation of contraception, in 1930 the Anglican church reversed its position and allowed contraception. This, then, is the lead-in Kippley lays out to Pope Pius XI’s Casti Connubii in 1932, which reads:
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.
This is interesting, because Natural Family Planning, or measured, willful abstinence for the purpose of avoiding conception, is exactly what he is talking about. NFP is an act that deliberately frustrates the natural power of sex to generate life. Mr. Kippley does not explain how Casti Connubii allows for NFP. It is also interesting that Kippley does not give any Catholic background to the issuing of Casti Connubii.
At this point, Mr. Kippley has attempted to use the Anglican Church’s logic to bolster the argument against contraception, but entirely dismissed the Anglican Church’s reasons for reversing themselves without even so much as a passing reference to why they made that decision. Surely something this major deserves to be explained? Since he spends so much time quoting the Anglican objections to contraception, let’s look at what the 1930 Lambeth Conference said on the matter:
Where there is clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, the method must be decided on Christian principles. The primary and obvious method is complete abstinence from intercourse (as far as may be necessary) in a life of discipline and self-control lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless 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, the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles. The Conference records its strong condemnation of the use of any methods of conception control from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience.
In every respect that I can think of, except the “s” on the end of the word “methods”, this agrees with the Catholic Catechism.
Next, Mr. Kippley quotes Pope Pius XI again, from his 1951 address to the Italian Catholic Society of Midwives. This time, Pius XI condemns
any attempt by the spouses in the completion of the conjugal act or in the development of its natural consequences, having the aim of depriving the act of the force inherent in it and of impeding the procreation of a new life.
This is worth examining because it is a development from previous condemnations, as it condemns post-coital actions, such as the use of a douche, to avoid pregnancy. In 1958, Pius XI made another speech that Kippley quotes, saying
But one provokes a direct sterilization and therefore an illicit one, whenever one stops ovulation in order to preserve the uterus and the organism from the consequences of a pregnancy which they are not capable of supporting.
This is an extremely interesting position to take, because what he is saying is that pregnancy must not be avoided even when the effect of a pregnancy would be to kill the mother (and possibly the child). What is interesting about this is that he is declaring that the existing life of the mother is essentially forfeit to the potential life of children she has not yet conceived. Above all, Pius XI is not indicating that Natural Family Planning is acceptable, as it is also a method of avoiding pregnancy, but rather is indicating that any such activity is prohibited. This is a rather extreme view to take, I think.
Kippley acknowledges that beginning in 1963 more and more respectable Catholic theologians endorsed the morality of the contraceptive pill. These theologians were not immediately condemned by the Pope, thus throwing the base teaching into doubt. It is against this backdrop that Pope John XXIII appoints the Papal Commission to examine the question, and Pope Paul VI enlarges that commission. Kippley then quotes several speeches made by Paul VI during the Papal Commission’s activity, and seems perplexed by the apparent doubt about the teaching in those speeches. He justifies the confusion by saying that Paul VI must have been thinking of the future and was simply being judicious, not that there was any actual doubt in Paul VI’s mind. The Commission, as we well know, concluded that the Church’s teaching should be reversed, and that contraception within marriage was an acceptable means of morally regulating the process of procreation. Kippley postpones examination of the details of this report for Chapter 13, but notes (with poorly hidden glee) that advocates of the use of contraception found this report encouraging, and would be sorely disappointed.
Interestingly, for all the ongoing debate that happened nearly continuously for the better part of the 20th century, Kippley ends his historical summary of the debate with the, in his view, definitive end-all-be-all position on the matter: the publication of Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI. He says:
Into this atmosphere, Pope Paul VI introduced Humanae Vitae. Its teaching that “each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life” (n. 11) clarified the aura of uncertainty regarding the official teaching of the magisterium and triggered a reaction greater than anything the Church had seen in at least 400 years.
The obvious deficits in this argument, which I have already pointed out, Kippley ignores. Thus ends Chapter 11.