The Anglicans slam birth control

“[68] The Conference … regards with grave concern the spread in modern society of theories and practices hostile to the family. We utter an emphatic warning against the use of unnatural means for the avoidance of conception, together with the grave dangers – physical, moral and religious – thereby incurred, and against the evils with which the extension of such use threatens the race. In opposition to the teaching which, under the name of science and religion, encourages married people in the deliberate cultivation of sexual union as an end in itself, we steadfastly uphold what must always be regarded as the governing considerations of Christian marriage. One is the primary purpose for which marriage exists, namely the continuation of the race through the gift and heritage of children; the other is the paramount importance in married life of deliberate and thoughtful self-control.

“We desire solemnly to commend what we have said to Christian people and to all who will hear.”

“[70] The Conference urges the importance of enlisting the help of all high-principled men and women, whatever be their religious beliefs, in co-operation with or, if necessary, in bringing pressure to bear upon, authorities both national and local, for removing such incentives to vice as indecent literature, suggestive plays and films, the open or secret sale of contraceptives, and the continued existence of brothels.”

The use of condoms is condemned even to prevent the spread of disease:

“[69] The Conference, moved by responsible statements from many nations as to the prevalence of venereal diseases, bringing suffering, paralysis, insanity, or death to many thousands of the innocent as well as the guilty, supports all efforts which are consistent with high moral standards to check the causes of the diseases and to treat and, if possible, cure the victims. … The Conference must condemn the distribution or use, before exposure to infection, of so-called prophylactics, since these cannot but be regarded as an invitation to vice.”

These are resolutions from the Lambeth Conference that took place in 1920 (Resolutions 68-70). Of course, it was the 1930 Conference which gave the green light to birth control, to the great consternation of many. Here is the infamous Resolution 15 from the Lambeth Conference of 1930:

“[I]n 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 ….”

Although this resolution passed, it was met with surprise and consternation among many Anglicans and Episcopalians. An American Episcopalian theologian named Francis J. Hall wrote, “[A]s might have been foreseen by the bishops, the general public understood that the traditional belief in the moral wrongfulness of the act in question as such had been explicitly abandoned.”

I discovered Francis J. Hall when I came across his book The Being and Attributes of God (Volume III of his Dogmatic Theology series) while browsing a used book store. True, he was an Anglican, but I have read some very good things by Anglicans — mainly C.S. Lewis of course, and Newman’s writings while still an Anglican, but also a wonderful book called The Spirit of Discipline by Francis Paget, which I have cited previously on this blog. So I didn’t let that scare me. Hall was a professor of dogmatic theology in New York City.

He published an article in 1931 titled “Is the Use of Contraceptives Ever Right?” (from which the above quote is taken), in which he gives arguments in favor of the traditional and theretofore universal Christian teaching against artificial birth control. He divides his argument into two sections, titled “Traditional Christian Teaching” and “Arguments”.

Under the former heading he writes,

“The general law, under which the specific Christian condemnation of the use of contraceptives falls, is that the sexual act may not be performed in a manner, or under conditions, which disregard and transgress the limits set by nature. Scripture, enlightened reason and experience alike teach that no indulgence of sexual appetite which violates this law can fail to imperil and ultimately to upset the subordination of that appetite to the requirements of personal purity, of both the primary and secondary ends of marriage and of social morality.

“St. Paul plainly condemns changing ‘the natural use into that which is against nature’ (Rom. i. 26-28); and such forms of unnatural intercourse as came to the attention of biblical writers are sternly condemned. One and all they violate the sanctity of the body as redeemed and made a temple of the Holy Ghost.”

Note Hall’s defense of what is now known as Natural Family Planning:

“In this connection, it is to be observed that an ‘unnatural’ sexual practice means one which interferes with the natural result of sexual intercourse. Therefore the appeal to the permissible habit of confining such intercourse to those monthly periods in which conception is unlikely to occur is not valid; for this habit involves no such interference. It is a practice of self-restraint dictated in form by natural law.” [In this regard, cf. this post, and especially my comment dated 4/1/13.]

Under “Arguments” he names the circumstances under which the avoidance of conception might be desired legitimately:

“[A]lthough the procreation of offspring is by divine ordering the primary end of marriage, sound reasons may arise that will justify the avoidance of its fulfillment, and even make such avoidance a duty. They arise when the circumstances make it morally certain that child-bearing either would fatally, at least seriously, injure the mother’s health, would result in defective offspring, or would involve impossibility of their support and wholesome upbringing. …”

But even when it’s legitimate to wish to avoid conception, “‘the primary and obvious method [of doing so] 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.'”

Still, Hall asks, “Do any reasons, however exceptional, justify abandonment of this method and resort to the use of contraceptives?”

Some reasons are more plausible than others. The most plausible reason (says Hall) is that the ends of marriage are twofold: Not only procreation, but also mutual affection and reduction or channeling of lust. He writes, “It is true that marriage’s primary end of procreation cannot be fulfilled without intercourse; but the secondary ends of affection and self-control can be, and frequently are, fulfilled in high degree by the grace given in Holy Matrimony and made effective by the bond of mutually accepted and sanctified purpose and self-discipline.”

The end of mutual love and affection may be carried out in many ways within marriage, having nothing to do with sex. He continues:

“[A] mutual affection which has to be cultivated by an intercourse made safe only by elaborate and unnatural precautions is certain to fall below the holy level of truly Christian marriage. And indulgence of sex appetite under such conditions is calculated to emphasize rather than to reduce the burning of carnal passion. My point is that, for really earnest souls, the grace of Holy Matrimony, utilized in mutual self-control, is sufficiently effective for joyously fulfilling the secondary ends of marriage, even when marital intercourse is precluded. Much experience in the ages gone by has proved this.”

Hall proceeds to address the question, how are we to impose this teaching on the faithful? He writes,

“In specific relation to the particular wrong doing with which this article is concerned, a priest should avoid inquisitorial methods, and should exercise discretion as to taking ‘official cognizance’ of suspected cases, lest he make the blunder of driving imperfect souls at bay, and convert sins of either ignorance or weakness in exceptional stress into defiant and obstinate moral revolt….”

In other words, you should use discretion when deciding whether to call people out for their sins, lest you compound their sin with that of obstinacy and rebellion. Nevertheless,

“What is needed in a luxurious and pleasure-mad age like this, is not an encouragement of shrinking from hard obligations, but a ringing challenge from moral and spiritual teachers and pastors to all who will listen to endure hardness, to resist even unto blood in striving against sin (Heb. xii. 4). The notion that the call to martyrdom is limited to what is publicly recognized and glorified under such description is deadly heresy.”

Obviously, he lost the argument. Or rather, won the argument but was outvoted.

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One thought on “The Anglicans slam birth control

  1. Pingback: Sin and (non)procreation | Petty Armchair Popery

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