The year 1930 Lambeth Conference, a gathering of Anglican Bishops every ten years, proved to be the first acceptance by Christian leaders of artificial contraception under any circumstances. Of course, the intention then was to permit it under very limited circumstances for a married couple. Permissible conditions were only “in 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…”
[Resolutions Archive from 1930 Published by the Anglican Communion Office © 2005 Anglican Consultative Council]
Response From The Catholic Church
The Catholic Church saw the relaxed attitudes in the Anglican Church while maintaining its condemnation of artificial contraception in its 1930 encyclical, Casti Connubii (On Christian Marriage) commissioned by Pope Pius XI. This document reaffirmed traditional Christian teachings on marriage and sexuality. It included a condemnation of the use of contraceptives that stretches back before Jesus.
It would not be until after the invention and approval of the contraceptive pill by the US government on May 9, 1960, that the Catholic Church would feel compelled to issue a targeted, focused response to the availability of artificial contraception. It was Pope John XIII who commissioned a study of Church Teaching on artificial contraception in 1963, Nearly five years later the encyclical Humanae Vitae, dated July 25, 1968, upheld established Catholic teaching with a more detailed explanation for its condemnation of using artificial contraception.
As the Catholic Church was studying the matter over five years, in its 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut decision, the United States Supreme Court struck down anti-contraceptive laws across the country, known then as the Comstock Laws. This decision allows for artificial contraception use by a married couple. Marital privacy was the proposed basis for this secular acceptance and embrace of artificial contraception.
Griswold v.Connecticut would later serve as the precedent for later Supreme Court decision allowing for the
• right to birth control for unmarried couples in 1972;
• the right to an abortion for any woman in 1973;
• the right to contraception for juveniles at least 16 years of age in 1977;
• the right to homosexual relations in 2003; and
• the right to same-sex marriage in 2015.
(See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Griswold_v._Connecticut )
Is There Not Certainty?
In both encyclicals, Casti Connubii and Humanae Vitae the consistent teaching against the use of artificial contraception by the Catholic Faith and Church is clear. There are reasons given for the teaching, but there has remained both dissent and questions of how God and the Church could expect someone to live these teachings.
There are times when we must look at the down to earth practical means one must adopt to live such teachings as we presently discuss. There are also other times we can study and reflect on the profound aspects of this teaching in light of those most directly affected. i.e., the married couple and their family. And there is the need for a time to pause and consider the practical and profound effect that anti-contraception has on the big picture known as civilization.
The Really Big Picture: It’s An Abdication
For the big picture, we can turn to many authorities who have been studying this matter for the better part of their lives since Lambeth 1930, nearly ninety years ago. Here instead though, for the really big picture let’s turn to one who converted to the Anglican Church just a few years before the 1930 Lambeth Conference, the Anglican author T. S. Elliot. He wrote his Thoughts After Lambeth, published January 1, 1931.
T. S. Elliot takes particular issue with the Anglican Bishops of 1930 who wrote that couples considering the use of the contraception should seek the counsel of their own conscience after seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit. For those couples who were still confused about the morality of their use of contraception, they can then turn to their Anglican clergy for counsel. In particular, he noted that to advise the confused couples to turn to the clergyman who is as confused as the couple on this matter is tantamount to the Anglican Church offering no direction. It was T. S. Elliot’s opinion that without further spiritual direction from the Anglican Church, it was withdrawing itself from relevance in the lives’ of people and from the World.
T. S. Elliot expressed that his overwhelming concern was for the Church’s self-declared withdrawal from providing direction to the same Individual Conscience it now relies on for resolving such serious matter as using artificial contraception. His conclusion so well captures the Christian’s bewilderment of today along with providing direction so direly missing from the church institution charged with this task. How often does the laity, and even the clergy, ask, “Where is the direction from the Church?”
T.S. Elliot wrote, “The World is trying the experiment of attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail; but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming the time: so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization, and save the World from suicide.”
The self-abdication of the Christian Church in forming the very Individual Conscience that must deliberate and resolve matters of such import as using contraception is a sign that the society can no longer expect the Christian Church to provide meaningful and intentional guidance in the affairs of men and women. T. S. Elliot does not expect this effort to form a civilized society without the counsel of the church in shaping the Individual Conscience to be successful in advancing the culture in civilized behavior. More to the point he declares it to be doomed to collapse all of civilization.
Elliot does not see the approach of the Roman Catholic Church as being any more realistic than the Anglican approach; he then muses that it maybe even less so.
What he plainly states is that if Christian churches are relying on Individual Conscience without being informed by the Christian church, we are doomed for the collapse of civilization.
Redeem The Time
I find it particularly interesting that he encourages; no maybe he directs us to redeem the time leading to the collapse. How does he expect us to redeem the time? He seems to encourage us to hold fast to the Faith in our study and its preservation, in prayer and seeking counsel from the Holy Spirit, and to know the Faith as the faith we live personally. He predicts there will be a time during which we must be patient in awaiting civilization’s collapse. It is during this time we must meet the task he provides – the redeeming of time. Another way he could put what he wrote is, “Sanctify time by holding true to the Faith so that it will exist to be shared after the collapse of civilization, however long we must wait for its inevitable failure and collapse.”
T. S. Elliot calls from us nothing easier than does Jesus Christ.
Peace of Jesus in the womb of Mary be with you.
© 2019 Patrick A. O’Donnell All Rights Reserved