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Church teaching on contraception before 1054

Discussion in 'Traditional Theology' started by Athanasias, Jul 18, 2019.

  1. Athanasias

    Athanasias Regular Member

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    This will be a good one for a juicy discussion. This is an interesting article from a scholar Dr. William Marshner who was also a convert to the Catholic faith from the lutheran Church. It documents the early Church Fathers condemnations on contraception. Catholics and many Christians even non Catholics hold that contraception is sinful and wrong and a great abuse to one's God given sexual power. This is also factual that even after 1054 the reformers agreed with the Catholic Church on this. Infact after the reformation almost all Churches thought contraception to be sinful and a sin against the marital covenant(often called onanism among other things) until 1930 at the Lambeth conference when the Anglican Church opened pandora's box. But how can this be truth does not change? Does your church condemn it? If not why not? All Christians did for most of history!

    Church Teaching Against Contraception Prior To 1054 – Dr. William H. Marshner

    Another book that documents the teaching of the reformers on this is this book writen by a protestant :

    https://www.amazon.com/Bible-Birth-Control-Charles-Provan/dp/9991799834
     
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2019
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  2. PloverWing

    PloverWing Episcopalian

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    I agree that some of these quotes express a dislike of sexuality, grudgingly allowing it for procreative purposes, but mistrusting it otherwise.

    Dr. Marshner's statement that "Hence, a consensus of the Fathers carries such great authority in the Church that it is never reversed" overstates the case. We value the consensus of the early church very highly, because they were closer in time to Jesus and the apostles than we are, and thus may have had extra insight into the message of the apostles. Additionally, the consensus of the church in any age should be listened to. The Fathers were not infallible, however, and they did not have expertise in all subjects. I am not confident that the quoted statements of the Fathers represent the consensus of the entire early church, including its married men and married women. When the subject is marriage in particular, I would want to make sure that the church is drawing on the knowledge and expertise of its married members as well as its single members.
     
  3. Quid est Veritas?

    Quid est Veritas? In Memoriam to CS Lewis

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    A thing that should be kept in mind, is that in olden days, contraception was mostly associated with sexual relations outside wedlock. People who worried about getting pregnant were adulterers, prostitutes, etc. Children were seen as wealth and security - may your quiver be full of arrows - as they could help on the farm, looked after parents in old age, and with high infant mortality rates, more was definitely better. Wishing someone many children was a blessing even in material terms, as it really does equate to an improvement in living circumstances back then. The infatuation with limiting fertility and population control is really an artifact of Industrial civilisation, in which children became superfluous before reaching working age, and urbanisation left cramped cities.

    While certainly some married couples might want to limit fertility, if they had a difficult pregnancy say, for the majority it simply was not a cultural concern. You see the same character in rural African populations today. So most of those interested in contraception, would be doing so to further immorality from the Church's perspective, so opposition to it makes perfect sense in that socio-cultural set-up.
     
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  4. Athanasias

    Athanasias Regular Member

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    Thanks for your input on this. A few things to note is that in the early Church their were many married clergy East and West also to note the reformers for example Luther was married as well and he taught this. In fact every single Christian church unanimously taught this till around 1930 when the Anglicans began to allow it and then others followed suit. So my question is why has Christian sexual mortality changed all the sudden? That seems dubious. Its a good question. I would say its because many churches capitulated to the seeds of the sexual revolution. What do you think? Does your church condemn it? If not why not? All Christians did for most of history!
     
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2019
  5. Athanasias

    Athanasias Regular Member

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    I think that today contraception is a huge cause of sex outside of wedlock as we have seen increase in the past 50 years with the advent of the "pill". Today more people then ever are shacking up and less people marrying and its makes sense .Why marry and be stuck with kids when you can have consequence free sex with whomever you want?

    But... the bigger question is given that the scripture seems to condemn contraception(that book I linked from a protestant demonstrated that), and given that early Church was unanimous on this, and given that all the major protestant reformers also condemned contraception, and given that all Christian churches(all of them) taught contraception was sinful until 1930 with the Anglican Lambeth conference, We have to ask ourselves why did the moral Christian truth all the sudden 1930 years later change? That seems dubious and a Johnny come lately! Can we really expect doctrine to change radically all the sudden after 1930 years? If So maybe tomorrow then we will can change other doctrines at our own will and say Jesus allows adultery or homosexuality(hey wait this has already been done ):)? Slippery slope. Does your church condemn it? If not why not? All Christians did for most of history!
     
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2019
  6. nonaeroterraqueous

    nonaeroterraqueous Nonexistent Member

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    Human population was fairly constant through most of history and on through the early church. Given the drastic difference in such a relevant factor, is it really reasonable to assume that what was true then is still true, now?

    Doctrine, even if it remains the same, is still applied to a different, entirely different, circumstance.

    No, because it is better to be married without children than to burn with lust.
     
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  7. Athanasias

    Athanasias Regular Member

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    So are you are into situation ethics?
     
  8. PloverWing

    PloverWing Episcopalian

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    The Lambeth Conference is the international conference of bishops of my church, so of course my church doesn't condemn contraception.

    I confess I haven't made a study of the various Lambeth Conferences in detail, so I don't know all of the reasoning that went into the 1930 resolutions. I do know that the Anglican Communion in general, and the Episcopal Church in particular, began to have serious and productive conversations about marriage, gender, and sexuality in the 20th century; but I don't know why it took until the 20th century to start having these conversations. It really is embarrassing that it took so long.

    The graph that nonaeroterraqueous posted is probably relevant. As medical science improved and infant mortality dropped, giving birth to 15 children now meant really raising all 15 children. That's a difficult thing to require of a family. In modern societies, two or three children are sufficient to provide for parents in their old age, and two or three children per couple are sufficient to ensure that the population doesn't die out.

    As the church lives and moves through history, some of its beliefs and practices are genuine insights into timeless truths about God, and some of its beliefs and practices are simply human cultural practices or assumptions or mistaken guesses. That was true in the past, just as it is true now. As we look back on the beliefs and practices of Christians of the past, part of our duty is to discern which is which, to keep what is good and true but leave behind what is mistaken or harmful. Slavery is the classic example -- Christians now agree that we should not practice slavery, and we were wrong when we did so in the past -- but there are other examples. Many church leaders of the past were harsher than they should have been towards married couples, women, and healthy sexuality, and it is appropriate that the 20th and 21st century church is offering correction. No doubt the 21st century church has its own blind spots, which our descendants will need to correct in their time. In this way, the church grows and matures through the centuries.
     
  9. Athanasias

    Athanasias Regular Member

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    Can you tell me what about this truth changed? Your Church like all Christians held it to be sinful till 1930. What changed in 1930? Can truth change? Why do you think this is?
     
  10. PloverWing

    PloverWing Episcopalian

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    In the mid 20th century, the Anglican church began to realize that it had been mistaken about some aspects of marriage and sexuality. Truth doesn't change, but human understanding does.
     
  11. Athanasias

    Athanasias Regular Member

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    Ok thank you. So in your view was everyone else in Christian history wrong about it till 1930? Could it be possible that the Anglican Church finds out it wrong and changes again on this topic back to what it was before? Or do you thin its just going with the "spirit of the age?" I think so.
     
  12. Philip_B

    Philip_B Let all mortal flesh keep silence ... Supporter

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    The Church has always had a philosophical pragmatism about it. Just look at slavery.
     
  13. Athanasias

    Athanasias Regular Member

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    W can deal with slavery in a whole other thread. I have historical resources for that but right now we are talking about the universal understanding of contraception that all Christians of all ages till 1930 held to. Why do you think the truth changed on this?
     
  14. Quid est Veritas?

    Quid est Veritas? In Memoriam to CS Lewis

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    Fairly sure my Church does not condemn it.

    But there is a major difference here: The nature of the Contraceptives.
    In ancient times, contraceptives were mostly abortifacients, and that is what the Church railed against. Barrier methods prior to latex and rubber, utilising sheep intestine or the like, are woefully ineffective; as are most spermicide concoctions smeared on the cervix (except for some limited evidence for Acasia gum, but these were not aseptic, so were hardly healthy, and often included dung). So the only really effective contraceptive was to induce a miscarriage by drinking mercury or herbal concoctions, or to physically hit the uterus or so. Not only does this equate to an abortion, it likewise was highly dangerous to the woman. No wonder the Church condemned it.

    The situation changed in the early 20th. Condoms are fairly effective, and actually help prevent spread of sexual diseases (though if everyone was either faithful or abstinent, that wouldn't be a problem). Hormonal contraceptive such as the Pill, Implanon implant, or Depo injections, prevent the release of the woman's ova, so fertilisation can never take place. These thus prevent a pregnancy before it happens, so no argument on ending one can really be made. The Catholic Church has advocated Rhythm method, which is functionally the same - only having intercourse at periods of least fertility to prevent conception - so the difference isn't stark.

    It is slightly different with some Intra-Uterine devices like the Copper T: They induce an unfavourable environment for the conceptus to adhere to the uterine wall, so could be construed as prematurely 'ending' that life. Likewise the 'morning after Pill' hormonal contraception. They are the exception here, but people usually fail to make the distinction.

    So yes, the Church historically condemned Contraception, and rightly so. Contraceptives were dangerous, and mostly worked as pharmaceutical Abortion. Nowadays, this is no longer the case - while contraceptives aren't without side effects (oral contraceptive slightly raises your cardiovascular risks for instance), they are no longer poisonous abortifacients. The difference between timing intercourse for least fertility, and inducing a state of low fertility, are minor. The strongest argument against Contraception has always been the potential of ending an existing human embryo's life, which many modern contraceptives no longer have. Merely preventing fertility has not really been an issue for the Church historically, as its endorsement of Rhythm methods show.

    So revisiting this is not unwarranted. The situation is different, but the morality perhaps not. It is misleading to lump modern medical Contraceptives with the abortifacients of yore, which belong more in line with Misoprostol and other such modern medical abortifacients. There is a difference in kind.
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2019
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  15. Quid est Veritas?

    Quid est Veritas? In Memoriam to CS Lewis

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    Just to add though, this is a tad hard to show causation. There were 'free love' movements in olden times too, and more Libertine periods like the French Revolution or the mid-Renaissance. Contraception certainly facilitates cheating, but so does the Internet, modern transport, cellphones, etc.

    If Contraception is wrong, it needs to be shown to be on its own moral position, not as merely a facilitator of other sins. For how could one then condemn a faithful married couple that are merely planning their family to maximise their care for each individual child? The position would be equivalent to condemning the Internet in entirety, because such a large percentage is devoted to pornography and degradation, with the concomittent sins of sex trafficking and the ilk. Humans will always find a way to turn anything to sinful uses - hence Monasticism withdrew from the world, to lessen the chance for sin, but hardly equates to condemning the world therefore. The argument that sex should only be done for procreation, is not supported by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7, either; and would that not condemn sexual intercourse amongst the sterile and outside of the window of fertility, too?

    The way I see it, the Church used to condemn Contraception as it was almost exclusively of the terrain of Adultery and Prostitution, was highly dangerous, and can be construed as murder. None of these points are on such secure footing anymore today.
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2019
  16. PloverWing

    PloverWing Episcopalian

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    1. I don't yet know what "everyone" believed before 1930. I've read writings by some ancient and medieval theologians -- the ones quoted in your links and others I've encountered in my reading -- that expressed a dislike of non-reproductive sexuality, but the quotes I've encountered have mostly been from male clergy and monks, many of whom were celibate. That's an important point of view, but it's not the only point of view. I also want to hear from married women in the ancient and medieval church, especially when the topic is childbearing. (We may not have many writings from married women of that period, which makes the research difficult.) Remember that consensus includes the laity as well as the clergy.

    2. The medical points raised by Quid est Veritas? are significant. As we develop new technologies, we have to do new theological and ethical reflections on the use of those technologies.

    3. It is important for the church to be able to reform itself when it makes mistakes. I'm not as convinced as you are that there was total consensus before the 20th century, but even if there was, the church needs to be able to correct itself from time to time. Tradition is important, but it's not everything, and it's not infallible.

    It's certainly possible that the Anglican church will change its position on matters related to marriage and sexuality. I doubt that it will go back to a prohibition on contraception, but as new medical technologies are developed and new societal changes happen, I expect and hope that the church will consider these new developments in thoughtful and prayerful ways and seek God's guidance on these matters. It may well be that there are things we misunderstand now, that the church will understand better 100 years from now.

    It's not accurate to characterize this as "going with the spirit of the age". Rather, it is listening to God in case God wants to teach us new things, especially regarding new cultural and technological situations we are encountering.
     
  17. Athanasias

    Athanasias Regular Member

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    Let me ask this of all of you. Do you think sex is naturally ordered by God toward the means of procreating? It seems the reformers and early Church and everyone major Christian Church did up till around 1930.
     
  18. PloverWing

    PloverWing Episcopalian

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    Sex is obviously the way that humans produce baby humans, so yes, in that sense. But there's more going on in human sex than just reproduction. God made us so that we're interested in sex year-round, even when we're not ovulating. That's unusual among animals. Many female animals only come into heat a couple of times a year, and are uninterested in sex otherwise. God could have made us like that, but didn't. We continue to be interested in sex even after menopause. We continue to be interested in sex even when we're pregnant. Sex is more than just reproduction for humans. It gives us pleasure, and it strengthens the emotional pair-bonds between humans.

    So, God made sex complicated. Procreation is only one of the things that sex accomplishes for humans. To say that human sex is chiefly for procreation is to oversimplify what we see in nature.
     
  19. Athanasias

    Athanasias Regular Member

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    That is correct. Sex is not just for procreation. It is also ordered for unity(physical and spiritual). Hence the two become one in Genesis literally. The parts male and female fit. That unity of the act of marital love which expresses the Trinitarians communion(the two become one on the wedding night and if God allows it by nature if they not too old the one may become 3 persons yet are one family unit). is part of the reason why we crave this as humans even after menopause or even if we have a defect and the animals do not. Unity is good when its ordered properly to the opposite sex.

    So unity is of course another reason for sexual covenant love but wouldn't you say that sex is naturally ordered to procreation for those before menopause also?
     
  20. PloverWing

    PloverWing Episcopalian

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    What do you mean when you say "sex is naturally ordered to procreation"? You seem to be saying more than just "many sexually active people conceive children".
     
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