"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI, Part 2

Let me continue on Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Humane Vitae.  Through paragraphs ten Paul VI outlines the doctrinal principles from which should guide Christian doctrine.  As I read it, I identify five subparagraphs that show the flow of his logic.  Let me quote all five.

1. (P8.1) Married love particularly reveals its true nature and nobility when we realize that it takes its origin from God, who “is love,” 6 the Father “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.”

2. (P9.2) This love is above all fully human, a compound of sense and spirit. It is not, then, merely a question of natural instinct or emotional drive. It is also, and above all, an act of the free will, whose trust is such that it is meant not only to survive the joys and sorrows of daily life, but also to grow, so that husband and wife become in a way one heart and one soul, and together attain their human fulfillment.

3. (P9.5) Finally, this love is fecund. It is not confined wholly to the loving interchange of husband and wife; it also contrives to go beyond this to bring new life into being. “Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the procreation and education of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute in the highest degree to their parents’ welfare.”

4. (P10.5) Responsible parenthood, as we use the term here, has one further essential aspect of paramount importance. It concerns the objective moral order which was established by God, and of which a right conscience is the true interpreter. In a word, the exercise of responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society.

5. (10.6)  From this it follows that they are not free to act as they choose in the service of transmitting life, as if it were wholly up to them to decide what is the right course to follow. On the contrary, they are bound to ensure that what they do corresponds to the will of God the Creator. The very nature of marriage and its use makes His will clear, while the constant teaching of the Church spells it out.

So look at the flow of the logic: Married love is a reflection of and comes from God; the objective of married love is not natural instinct but for husband and wife to be one; this love is fecund; this fecundity is part of the right order established by God; from this follows that one has to act in accordance with that divine order and not against it.

In that last comment I outlined the flow of logic from which Christian doctrine should stem, and that is that humanity needs to act in accordance with divine order.  But what is that divine order when it comes to procreation?  Paul VI develops that in paragraphs eleven through thirteen.  I identify four steps in that logic.  Again I’ll quote the steps.

1. (P11) God has wisely ordered laws of nature and the incidence of fertility in such a way that successive births are already naturally spaced through the inherent operation of these laws. The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.

2. (P.12.1)  This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.

3. (P12.2) And if each of these essential qualities, the unitive and the procreative, is preserved, the use of marriage fully retains its sense of true mutual love and its ordination to the supreme responsibility of parenthood to which man is called

4. (P13) If they further reflect, they must also recognize that an act of mutual love which impairs the capacity to transmit life which God the Creator, through specific laws, has built into it, frustrates His design which constitutes the norm of marriage, and contradicts the will of the Author of life. Hence to use this divine gift while depriving it, even if only partially, of its meaning and purpose, is equally repugnant to the nature of man and of woman, and is consequently in opposition to the plan of God and His holy will.

Let me summarize that comprehensively: God has so ordered the natural laws; that the natural law in the marital act works toward the unitive and procreative needs; and that going against this natural law goes against the will of the Divine Being.  A summarizing quote from Paul VI comes toward the end of paragraph thirteen: “Just as man does not have unlimited dominion over his body in general, so also, and with more particular reason, he has no such dominion over his specifically sexual faculties, for these are concerned by their very nature with the generation of life, of which God is the source.”

Finally Pope Paul VI briefly mentions the consequences of using contraception, and he appeals to responsibility.  From Paragraph seventeen:

(P17.1) Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

Of course there was infidelity before contraception, but the scale of broken marriages and divorce rates has leaped exponentially once contraception was introduced.  In the US divorce rates were at 7% of marriages in 1900.  Then condoms were introduced in the middle of the 19th century but really perfected in the early 20th century.  And so, divorce rates by the 1930s had climbed to 18%.  Once the birth control pill was introduced, divorce rates shot up uncontrollably until in 1980, after the ravages of 60s and 70s, the divorce rate had climbed to 52% of marriages.  It has since receded a little, but not by much.

And Pope Paul appeals to upholding moral standards so as to not expose the young.  Well, that was prescient.  There was a time when co-habitation was looked at as immoral.  Today it’s the norm.  It’s amazing how many friends at work mention their children as living with an unmarried partner.  There was a time a parent would be ashamed to mention it, but today it’s spoken in open conversation with hardly a blush.  No wonder marriage is in decline and confused.  No wonder secularism rules the day over religious values.

And Pope Paul VI fully anticipated the criticism the Catholic Church would receive for her position.  Paragraph eighteen is stunning.  There are three sub paragraphs that need to be quoted and commented upon.  Let me take them one at a time.

(P18.1) It is to be anticipated that perhaps not everyone will easily accept this particular teaching. There is too much clamorous outcry against the voice of the Church, and this is intensified by modern means of communication. But it comes as no surprise to the Church that she, no less than her divine Founder, is destined to be a “sign of contradiction.”  She does not, because of this, evade the duty imposed on her of proclaiming humbly but firmly the entire moral law, both natural and evangelical.

The Church is not there to evolve with the times.  Given the sexual revolution that must have been raging in 1968, it’s clear Paul sees the Church’s destiny to be in opposition to the cultural revolution that has overtaken western civilization.  She will be a “sign of contradiction,” a most memorable phrase that reminds me of another great quote by William F. Buckley, Jr, “A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”  The next sub paragraph explains why the Church must stand this way:

(P18.2) Since the Church did not make either of these laws, she cannot be their arbiter—only their guardian and interpreter. It could never be right for her to declare lawful what is in fact unlawful, since that, by its very nature, is always opposed to the true good of man.

That is a very important point.  The Catholic Church did not make these laws.  God made these laws.  If you believe in a loving God that knows what’s best for His creation, then you accept it.   The Church has no flexibility here.  And finally, we can understand why God made such a rule.

(P18.3) In preserving intact the whole moral law of marriage, the Church is convinced that she is contributing to the creation of a truly human civilization. She urges man not to betray his personal responsibilities by putting all his faith in technical expedients. In this way she defends the dignity of husband and wife. This course of action shows that the Church, loyal to the example and teaching of the divine Savior, is sincere and unselfish in her regard for men whom she strives to help even now during this earthly pilgrimage “to share God’s life as sons of the living God, the Father of all men.”

The moral law leads to a “truly human civilization.”  By refraining from contraception, a couple will blossom into the full of humanity and society will blossom into the full of civilization, the Edenic ideal that was first created and before human free will rebelled against.  God understands the bigger picture.  Contraception may satisfy some of the needs of the immediate moment, but it works against the total benefit of mankind.  Robbing a bank may make me a millionaire for as long as I’m on the lam, but in the long run it will be disastrous for me.  I can’t help recalling the opening lines of Psalm 1. 
1Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the way* of sinners, nor sit in company with scoffers. 2Rather, the law of the LORD* is his joy; and on his law he meditates day and night.

Read the entire first psalm.  It is so appropriate.  Pope Paul VI truly understood the law of the Lord.  Meditate on it day and night and I believe it will make sense.  This was a great read!

Monday, May 21, 2018

Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI, Part 1

This may be the most important papal encyclical of our time.  On July 25th it will mark the 50th anniversary of its publication.  This was selected as a short read in our Catholic Thought Book Club on Goodreads.  You can find the encyclical on the internet for free, here, and it’s only about fifteen pages.  You can read this in an hour.  The following are my thoughts followed by an energetic discussion which I’ll post a few excerpts.

Let me start the discussion on Humanae Vitae, in pointing out the context of the encyclical and the central question to be discussed.  These turn out to be paragraphs two and three. 

The Holy Father points out three contemporary issues that has caused the need for this Papal Encyclical, which is subtitled, “on the Regulation of Birth.”  Let’s recall that the encyclical is dated 25 July 1968, and this is in the upheaval of many post World War II revolutions.  There is the huge population spurt across the world, the social revolution of women entering the work force, and sexual revolution mostly caused by the easy access and mostly reliable devices for contraception. 

I found the Holy Father’s phrasing of women’s new choices in society to be very compassionate: “a new understanding of the dignity of woman and her place in society.”  That’s actually quite sensitive and respectful to a woman having choices when such choices were socially denied. 

However, in paragraph two, Pope Paul VI lays out some social forces that are at countervailing odds.  On the one hand, there is the escalating population, the economic pressures that come, the freedom that women to shape their lives against a new mentality that in control of one’s life controls the very nature of God’s will.  That third subparagraph of paragraph two is well worth quoting:

But the most remarkable development of all is to be seen in man’s stupendous progress in the domination and rational organization of the forces of nature to the point that he is endeavoring to extend this control over every aspect of his own life—over his body, over his mind and emotions, over his social life, and even over the laws that regulate the transmission of life.

What Pope Paul VI finds most disturbing is the control of life over the transmission of life. 

The third paragraph I think crystalizes the central thesis.  The first subparagraph justifies a review of the moral norms of married life, and we will see that in the next series of paragraphs.  But the second subparagraph is where the central thesis resides, and I think worth quoting in entirety:

Moreover, if one were to apply here the so called principle of totality, could it not be accepted that the intention to have a less prolific but more rationally planned family might transform an action which renders natural processes infertile into a licit and provident control of birth? Could it not be admitted, in other words, that procreative finality applies to the totality of married life rather than to each single act? A further question is whether, because people are more conscious today of their responsibilities, the time has not come when the transmission of life should be regulated by their intelligence and will rather than through the specific rhythms of their own bodies.

First, I’ve never heard of the “principle of totality.”  So I looked it up.  It ultimately comes from Thomas Aquinas and natural law, but brought to contemporary society by Pope Pius XII in a 1952 address:  

On September 14, 1952, Pope Pius XII gave an address to the First International Congress on the Histopathology of the Nervous System. On that occasion, the Holy Father discussed the Principle of Totality at length and in the contrasting terms spelled out in this question. The principle itself is the general notion that, since parts are ordered for the good of the whole, they may be disposed of, if necessary, for the good of the whole. The application to a human person is that “parts” (i.e., organs, digits, etc.) may be mutilated, severed, removed, or otherwise debilitated if, by so doing, one benefits the person.

But more specific to the issue at hand can be summarized by this definition from ethics:  

The principle of totality states that all decisions in medical ethics must prioritize the good of the entire person, including physical, psychological and spiritual factors. This principle derives from the works of the medieval philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas, who synthesized the philosophy of Aristotle with the theology of the Catholic Church. The principle of totality is used as an ethical guideline by Catholic healthcare institutions.

So what Pope Paul VI is asking in paragraph 3.2 is whether this control of life, while it may address the issues of the need for control, may in the end be more harmful to the totality of the individual and married couple.  In looking at the totality of the human experience, is that control more harmful than good?


Irene responded:
It would seem to me that most Catholic couples have decided that controlling the number of pregnancies does more good for their experience and for the health of the mother, than harm. I am not married, so I am not speaking from experience. And I am not trying to argue for or against papal teaching. I am only trying to answer Manny's question. From listening to people and watching contemporary family life in the developed world, it seems that the principle of totality would have most couples saying that the benefit to the whole is greater when pregnancies can be planned. Women in abusive relationships have more freedom to find safety for themselves and any children they already have if they are not pregnant or fearing pregnancy. Couples can better provide financially and emotionally for children if they do not have more than they can care for. Many women have died in child birth leaving older children motherless because they could not prevent medically inadvisable pregnancies. Although abstanence could limit pregnancies, we know that the sexual act bonds two people. To prevent couples from a mutually affectionate sex life can weaken the emotional bond of the marriage. For all of these reasons and more, even though the average Catholic has never heard of this principle, many have made the decision that the greater good for the whole is the use of birth control.

My Response:
Not my question, Irene. Pope Paul VI's question. And what I think his argument will be (I have not read it all yet) is that when one considers the totality of the individual and marriage, it will not be beneficial. Do the near term positives, as you outline, outweigh the long term harm he sees as a result of the control? That is a true test. Well we know his answer. I'm anxious to read what he sees as the long term harm. I haven't gotten there yet.

Yes, the majority of Catholics apparently have determined that birth control (and to my shock abortion) is the greater good. But that doesn't mean it's correct. After all Christ Himself says that divorce is unacceptable. And yet I think most Catholics have determined that's not part of the greater good either. Just because the majority of Catholics make the decision they do doesn't mean it's not as a result of a fallen world, and therefore a sin. And doesn't the Church determine it's a mortal sin to use birth control?

Irene’s response:
Yes, the Church does prohibit the use of artificial birth control. that is why I prefaced my answer with the disclaimer that I was not arguing against Church teaching. I was only trying to answer thee question from an experiential stand point. The Church will bring into their perspective some things that are less easily perceived by the average person. So, as I tried to post, this is how the average lay couple would see the benefits or harm to the total organism, the woman or the couple or the family playing out.Not married, I have no skin in this game. And, I certainly would not advocate for disobeying Church teaching. I realize that my little perspective is too limited to think I know better than the Church. But, if asked my personal opinion, I am not sure we won't see this reversed at some point.

My Response:
Yes, I agree, that is the calculation the average lay couple makes, but that's contingent on whether they are conscious of Church teaching. I went most of my life not knowing about the restriction to contraception. I had no idea until I became devout and started learning as much as I could.

Kerstin’s Reply:
Yes, I agree, that is the calculation the average lay couple makes, but that's contingent on whether they are conscious of Church teaching. I went most of my life not knowing about the restriction to contraception. I had no idea until I became devout and started learning as much as I could.

Irene’s Response:
I am not sure I would attribute artificial birth control as the cause for increased divorce rates, same sex marriage, the growing acceptance of LGTB rights, and the declining awareness of or fidelity to God in society. I think there are many factors. We harnessed the power of the atom to wipe out entire populations, developed the technology to understand and manipulate genes to cure serious birth defects, empowered women in professional and economic realms, sent probes to the edge of our solar system and seen the pictures of distant planets. Although the availability of artificial birth control certainly offered married women greater freedom to pursue lives outside the home and allowed people to engage in sec without the fear of pregnancy, I do not think it alone brought about all the changes we currently observe.

My Response:
Irene, granted we're dealing with a complexity of phenomena, so there's no one thing that's a causal link, but the notion of recreational sex which resulted from contraception certainly can be linked to higher divorce rates. The whole sense that sex is a means to personal satisfaction and not procreation alters the outlook. If a spouse no longer provides that satisfaction - either they are no longer desirable or has become routine - then the rationale for someone else becomes justified. There has been many a "mid-life" crises that has resulted in divorce.

As to homosexual issues, that understanding too was altered as a result of the sexual revolution which stemmed from contraception. If sex is no longer primarily for procreation but now for personal satisfaction, then the notion of homosexuality is no longer that of a perversity - which is how it was characterized when I was young - but just a variation on how one achieves that satisfaction. It wasn't contraception per se that altered our understanding, but because of contraception we looked at sex differently. There was a middle step in the causal chain.

I’m going to end it there.  There were lots of good comments but I think I captured all sides without repetition.  Stay tuned for more posts on this.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Faith Filled Friday: St. Catherine of Siena as a “Pivotal Player”

Bishop Robert Barron’s video series are spectacular.  I bought the Catholicism series and it was well worth it.  When he came out his The Pivotal Players was very tempted to buy it, but it was very expensive.  Volume 1, which I think is the only volume put out so far, might have been around $199 when it first came out.  The Pivotal Players is a series of videos on the people in the history of Catholicism who have been instrumental in shaping its thought and culture.  Volume 1 consists of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thomas Aquinas, Bl. John Henry Newman, G. K. Chesterton, Michelangelo, and St. Catherine of Siena.  Now, of course if you knew my love for St. Catherine of Siena, you quickly see how tempted I was.  However, at that time I figured, what could Bishop Barron say about St. Catherine that I didn’t already know? 

So I didn’t buy it, but I had hoped there would one day be a means of buying only one of the series and not the whole volume.  There wasn’t but recently I got an email where Bishop Barron put Volume 1 on sale for $99, which amounts to just over $16 per video, each video being about an hour long.  Now that I figured was a sale and worth getting.  As soon as I got the shipment I went and put on the episode on St. Catherine.  Goodness, it’s beautiful.  Yes, I probably already knew 90% of the information given, the video images of the locations and visuals of the paintings and statutes of St. Catherine was breathtaking.  Bishop Barron’s company, Word on Fire, does such a wonderful job on these videos.  But what really moved me was the love and admiration the video had for my beloved patroness.  More than once did it bring tears to my eyes.

Here is a trailer for the Catherine of Siena episode.

And I also found an interview Bishop Barron had on St. Catherine shortly after completing filming the episode on her.  He makes these points in the episode, but the episode is so much more.

If you want to learn a little bit about the patron saint of this blog and why I love her so without having to read books about her, get the Pivotal Player episode on her life and teachings.  It’s well worth it.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Blog Note: I Haven’t Forgotten my Blog

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last posted.  No I haven’t forgotten.  There have been a number of things that have limited my posting.

First, I’ve gotten a new major project at work, and the start of a major project is labor intense for the project manager.  Once I’ve gotten things rolled into a plan and I’ve got good people working toward that plan, I can go into a more monitor mode.  Until then there are budgets to be put together, funding to be broken out, designs that need to be drawn up, plans that need to be established, contracts that need to be written and sent over to legal, and endless engineering documents to be composed that ensure good engineering process.  Hopefully I can take a step back in a couple of months.  In the meantime, I’m still working the project I was on before, which has become a pain.  So I’m doubly busy.

Second, baseball season!  I’m obsessed with my beloved Baltimore Orioles.  They had a disastrous first month of the season, possibly the worst start in team history.  You would think I would give up after that kind of start.  No, I’m only more obsessed.  I’m convinced this is a good team that had injuries and bad luck, and will bounce back.  It seems like they are finally returning to norm.  They’ve now won six of the last seven, including a 17-1 win yesterday.  However, in a division where the Yankees (I call them the “Stinkees”) and the Red Sox (I call them the “Red Pox”) are off to incredible starts, it does seem that the hole the Orioles dug that first month will be too deep to climb out.  We shall see.  Anyway, when I come home, my first order of business after a tiring day at work and after Matthew runs me ragged with whatever he wants me to do before he goes to bed is to turn on that night’s game.  Baseball is such a joyful pastime, even if your team is underperforming.   

Third, The Catholic Thought Book has been reading G. K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man.  It’s been a bit slow for me, not because it’s not a good read—it’s fascinating actually—but because I was burnt out from the long list of reads the month before.  Also, although I’ve taken copious notes, I’m really not sure what I want to say about, or, perhaps more accurately, not sure on how to go about saying something on it.  I’m about two thirds of the way through (the rest of the club has finished) and I still intend to post something on it.  All those notes can’t go to waste.

Here’s what the book club is onto now, if you want to join in or follow my blog posts.  Currently we have as a short two-three week read of Pope Paul VI’s famous papal encyclical Humanae Vitae.  It’s the 50 year anniversary of this enormously important document which confirmed Catholic teaching on reproduction and marital relations.  It stands as a contrast to the sexual revolution that was swirling in the air in 1968 when it was written and published.  It’s not a very long document, only 17 pages.  It won’t take you long to read, and you can read it here from Vatican documents.  I will definitely have a couple of posts on it.

The short read is to fill the time gap while we vote, select, and acquire our next book.  The winner for the next read is The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noiseby Robert Cardinal Sarah, one of the cardinals who are on a short list for the next pope.  Everyone who I know who has read this book has raved about it.  I have a friend, Mary Sue, who is a very devout Evangelical Protestant, and she said this in her Goodreads review of this book:

This book moved me. Every once in a while, I come across a book that makes me want to reevaluate everything I know, and this book did that. I absolutely loved the recognition I felt reading this book - despite standing in quite a different corner of Christianity as a young, American, fairly Calvinist woman compared to an established and revered African Catholic cardinal, I could identify many (not all, but many) of Cardinal Sarah's reflections and understandings as ones I've shared and come to love with all my heart. More importantly, he put into words things I've felt so deeply it hurts about the quality of silence and solitude I've loved desperately as a believer. I've not even known that these things could be put into words, but Cardinal Sarah did that.

I don’t know what she is referring to when she says that the book made her “reevaluate everything [she] knows” but that is quite a statement.  I will have to ask her to explain once I have read the book myself.  So if that doesn’t get you to want to read this book, then you have no Catholic blood in your veins.  (I kid.)   By the way, Mary Sue has commented occasionally on my blog and she keeps her own blog, At the Still Point.  This week the Book Club is acquiring the book, next week we start reading, and the week after we discuss the opening sections.  Hope that motivates you. 

Nice to be blogging again.  Bless you all that read these humble posts.