The Synod and Cardinal Suenens

My previous comment on the Synod noted the huge importance of attitude in receiving or refusing authentic Christian teaching regarding love, marriage and sexuality. It closed with a reference to Léon Joseph Cardinal Suenens who wrote a small but important book on these matters in 1959, Love and Control, published in 1960 and revised for a 1962 printing. My quotes are from the English translation of the 1962 edition; the bold-face emphasis is mine.

Relevant to the controversies mentioned at the Synod, Cardinal Suenens had this to say:

“No one denies that a man’s first obligation is to his conscience. But that is just the point: if a man follows his conscience and remains in the Church, then he should also follow his conscience and accept the Church’s teaching. There is no place for conscientious objectors in the Church who accept only part or reject part of what she teaches. Heresy means a withdrawal. Taking or leaving doctrines as one chooses is a basic denial of the essential meaning of the Church and her divine foundation. As Father Congar has said, the faithful must be free within the Church, but not with regard to the Church” (29).

The Cardinal, who was Archbishop of Malines-Brussels when he wrote this book, waded head-on into sex education. “At all costs, we [the Church] must take the lead in apostolic activity and sex education, otherwise all her work will come to nothing” (32). “Men have to be taught control over their sexual instincts. This is the only really humane and Christian answer to the problem of love” (34).

“For today’s Christian, the word “love” is a defeat whose losses must be recouped. The fact is that no other word has been so weakened and muddled by modern literature and the jargon used by television, radio, films and advertising. . . ‘Love’ is put forth as the one excuse which makes any sort of behavior blameless, and which is its own justification. . . Our job is to restore to real love its pristine and sacred meaning” (36-38).

The question of teaching morality in courses on natural family planning has been raised several times over the years. Cardinal Suenens addresses this: “The sins of omission and laziness of those who, for whatever reason, have the job of giving sex instruction will weigh heavier on the last day than the sins of the men and women who were never sufficiently instructed to meet their obligations” (53).

On the need for sexual self-control: “Everyone has to have sexual control and no one can begin to develop it too soon. For a married couple, however, it is doubly essential and it has a special marital aspect which needs considering” (66).

Should NFP programs say anything about family size? The Cardinal quotes from the Family Code, an authoritative document of the Union of Malines which says among other things, “If, however, some indication must be made of the social minimum of procreativity, it could be said that an average of less than three children per home would mean the death of society by suffocation” (93).   Perhaps marriage instructions should teach, “Three to survive; five to thrive.”

On the need to provide practical help: “We have no right to demand that men obey this law [the Church’s teaching against contraception] without, at the same time, doing everything we can to make obedience possible, without straining all our energies to make the way clear” (150).

“Anything which can ease the burden of enforced continence by making it last for a shorter time is an inestimable help in keeping souls in the state of grace” (152). Then the Cardinal goes on to praise the work of Ogino, Knaus and Smulders in the Thirties and the more recent work of Drs. Holt (1959) and Doering (1957) using temperature-based systems.

Next week: Humanae Vitae, preparation for marriage, and NFP instruction.

John F. Kippley, November 10, 2014; also at http://www.nfpandmore.org.

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