It’s a big week. January 18, 2015 is the first Sunday of the Church Unity Octave. The second reading at Mass on this day is from 1 Corinthians 6 starting with verse 13c. Last week Pope Francis reaffirmed the teaching of Humanae Vitae, the 1968 encyclical of Bl. Pope Paul VI that reaffirmed 20 centuries of teaching against marital contraception. January 22 marks the 42nd anniversary of Roe v Wade and will see the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. These things are not unrelated.
If there is one contemporary issue which is a big dividing point between the teaching of the Catholic Church and that of most Protestant ecclesial bodies, it is birth control. I have heard or read statements that the membership in some of the newer Protestant communions is largely former Catholics, and I suspect that the general Protestant acceptance of unnatural forms of birth control has played a major part in Catholic dropout and re-alignment. It wasn’t always this way. Martin Luther called the contraceptive sin of Onan a form of sodomy; John Calvin called it a form of homicide. In the United States, the late 19th century Federal and State laws against contraception were passed by essentially Protestant legislatures. Catholics had almost no legal influence at that time.
This is a point of division that needs to be healed and is a good reason to pray every day during this octave for the unity of all Christians once again. We also need to pray for unity within the Catholic Church, for the very real conversion of the dissenters, the cafeteria Catholics, and those in high places who seem to be confused about the Church’s traditional teaching about the demands of love, marriage, and sexuality.
The word currently translated as “immorality” in the text read in Church was translated as “fornication” in some previous texts. The real subject of St. Paul’s teaching here is every form of sexual immorality. His explanation is truly theological as contrasted with pragmatic considerations such as disease and non-marital conception. The Apostle to the Gentiles teaches that sexual sins are sins against your own body. You do not own your own body. You do not have a right to do anything you please with your body. You and your body belong to God. “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you… You have been purchased at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.”
When the bishops of the Church of England voted to accept marital contraception in August 1930, they listed only two options for those couples who felt a need not to have more children—either total abstinence or contraception. In February 1930 a German medical journal carried the work of the Japanese research doctor, Kyusaku Ogino, that made calendar rhythm a reality. To be sure, it needed improvement, but it offered a way out of the dilemma posed by the Anglican bishops and their contraceptive-minded advisors. But they ignored it, and they also ignored the warnings of their own conservative bishops that the acceptance of marital contraception would lead to the acceptance of sodomy. So true.
Today it is well known that the Anglican dilemma was false, perhaps even contrived. But regardless of the past, it is time for all Christian bodies to recognize that Luther and the conservative Anglicans were right, that marital contraception is a grave moral evil, and that natural family planning systems offer a way out of the dilemma that many couples still think exists today.
This week is a special week to pray for the return to unity on this issue.
It is also significant that Thursday of this week is the day of the annual March for Life in Washington D. C. The social and legal acceptance of abortion was another huge and horrible effect of the contraceptive sexual revolution. The U. S. Supreme Court based its erroneous pro-abortion decision of January 22, 1973 on its two previous erroneously concocted decisions to dismantle all the American anti-contraception laws.
Nothing will stop abortion as well as a rebirth of chastity all throughout the West, and that probably has to start with marital chastity.
John F. Kippley, January 18, 2015