Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pre-Vatican II Popes' Use of the Description "Separated Brethren"

By Dave Armstrong (9-30-08)

Pope Leo XIII used the term "separated brethren" in his 1896 encyclical Adiutricem:

No better way is afforded of proving a fraternal feeling toward their separated brethren than to aid them by every means within their power to recover this, the greatest of all gifts. (19)
For that reason We say that the Rosary is by far the best prayer by which to plead before her the cause of our separated brethren. (27)
. . . and again in his 1898 encyclical Caritatis Studium (On the Church in Scotland):

The ardent charity which renders Us solicitous of Our separated brethren, in no wise permits Us to cease Our efforts to bring back to the embrace of the Good Shepherd those whom manifold error causes to stand aloof from the one Fold of Christ. Day after day We deplore more deeply the unhappy lot of those who are deprived of the fullness of the Christian Faith.
Pope Pius XI also used the term in his 1926 encyclical Rerum Ecclesiae. In the same sentence he refers to Protestant "errors". Both/and . . . They are brothers in Christ by virtue of their baptism, but they lack fullness and teach many errors.


Pope Pius XII follows course in his 1939 encyclical, Summi Pontificatus, even while blasting liberal Protestants for denying the divinity of Christ. He used it again in another encyclical of the same year: Sertum Laetitiae.

Pope John XXIII wrote in his 1959 Christmas message:
Nor do We wish to forget Our separated brethren for whom Our prayers rise unceasingly to Heaven so that the promise of Christ may be fulfilled: one Shepherd and one flock.
There had long been a less strict interpretation of salvation outside the Church (along the same ecumenical lines later developed by Vatican II), taught by St. Augustine (hence his view that Donatist schismatics need not be re-baptized), St. Thomas Aquinas, and many others. 

* * * * *

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Critique of Bedrock (Self-Defeating) Protestant Principles of Authority

By Dave Armstrong (9-25-08)

Some Protestants claim to have the "fullness of truth," just as Catholics do.

But how does a Protestant know that? How can he be sure, since he falls back on himself, by virtue of the Protestant notion and rule of faith, of private judgment? No Protestant can know this, consistent with their own system, because they have denied the infallibility of the Church: precisely that which was designed by God to provide us with assurance that we have divinely-protected fullness of truth, and infallible truth.

If the Protestant removes that, then he obviously can't have it. It's pretty simple when you step back and look at it. That's why many (I'd say, most) thoughtful, informed Protestants no longer even make this claim. They say, rather, that all denominations have parts of the truth; no one has it all. It's awfully hard to establish that, except on pure subjectivism (which is not rational). Besides, it is obvious that Protestants contradict each other all over the place, so who's to say which is right on what? They haven't been able to resolve that thorny problem in almost 500 years.

The so-called Protestant "reformers" claimed to be going back to the Bible and the teachings of the early Church, in order to overcome the corrupt "traditions of men." But this is quite obviously not the case, once one actually examines what was believed by the early Church. Time and again, I have amply demonstrated, in my debates, that the early Church fathers were far, far more like Catholics than like any sort of Protestant. This whole notion of "going back" to the early Church is sheer myth: one of the greatest of the Protestant Revolt, which is what it was: it was no reform.

The only "reform" they made was in emphasizing the same stuff that Catholics historically believed, anyway, like Grace Alone, and the inspiration of Scripture. All of their distinctively Protestant innovations, like sola Scriptura or sola fide or a host of other things, were unheard of in the ancient Church. This is the burden of every Protestant who talks this rhetoric to explain. It can't be done. If they try to argue it from Church history, they lose every time. I know, because I've been in dozens of such debates myself, with many of the leading fundamentalist Protestant debaters.

As for mere "traditions of men," no one has more of those than Protestants. Sola Scriptura isn't in the Bible anywhere, yet they base their entire system on it. It is itself a bald, unsubstantiated tradition of men itself. It was essentially invented by Martin Luther on the spur of the moment when he was trapped in debate by a Catholic opponent (Leipzig Debate of 1519, if I recall correctly, without checking). The Bible itself teaches that there are these corruptions of men, but also true divine traditions.


So if one wants to truly take the Bible as the fullness of truth, that includes a positive as well as negative version of tradition. It also includes Church authority, which is related. This same Scripture teaches both church and papal infallibility.

Catholics and Protestants agree that the Bible alone is inspired. Infallibility is a far lesser gift, that protects men from promulgating error and making it binding on the faithful.

Of course we are sinners and make mistakes. Precisely because of this, the Church has to be divinely protected by the Holy Spirit from error. But Protestantism ditched that belief, and so left mere men to fend for themselves and fall back on themselves. Who wants to fall back on that weak reed?! Thus, human error in relation to doctrine is far more a problem in Protestantism than in Catholicism. God always had to use sinners, even to write much of His collected inspired documents, the Bible (Moses, David, Paul, Peter: murderers, adulterers, betrayers: quite a motley group). The Bible makes it clear that there will always be sinners in the Church, too.

Protestants can claim whatever they like about possessing "fullness of truth." That's easy. But they can't prove this. If some Protestant thinks he can, let him try. I'd love to see it. The Catholic. on the other hand, believes there is a divinely-protected Church, established by Christ, that preserves the fullness of the apostolic deposit through apostolic succession. That's a consistent (and patristic and biblical) view. It requires faith, sure, but it is thoroughly based both on the Bible and Church history.

The Protestant view cannot ultimately be backed up by either thing, and is unable to be consistently practiced in real life. It's self-defeating. That can easily be demonstrated by showing that claims such as this are based on nothing when scrutinized. The Protestant needs to be challenged to explain why they believe these things based on nothing, as if Christian belief were similar to an onion that you keep peeling, but which has nothing inside. There is no core. That's how Protestantism is (logically-speaking). Protestants retain much of what historic Catholicism taught; here I am referring specifically to the logic of their principles of authority. The emperor is naked. I'm here to tell him that he is (which makes one highly popular!).

I've proven this scores of times in debates. The Protestant always flees when they realize they have no answer and that their system is pure subjectivism in the end. They simply have no answer to these sorts of fundamental critiques, and so they must either split and head for the hills, or else attempt to switch the subject to Catholic faults (real or alleged). I can do nothing if they leave a discussion, to prevent them from doing so, but I won't stand for the desperate diversionary tactic of switching the subject.

Thoughts on Bibles and Catholics, Catholic "Sunday School," Bible Memorization, Etc.

By Dave Armstrong (9-25-08)

These thoughts of mine come from a (requested) critique I did today of a zealous friend's proposals for Catholic Bible Study and "Sunday School" sorts of methods, that he would like to present to bishops for consideration. I disagreed in some emphases and presuppositions, though I agreed overall, in a broad sense. Though they will appear a bit random and scattered, this material gives readers an idea of how a Catholic (at least this Catholic) approaches Holy Scripture, in relation to the Church and Tradition. It's an entirely "pro-Bible" approach, but without the erroneous baggage of sola Scriptura and private judgment and other false Protestant notions.

* * * * *

According to my friend Al Kresta, if I recall correctly (a former Christian bookstore manager and pastor), only about 10% of evangelicals regularly attend Bible studies, frequent bookstores, etc. We shouldn’t exaggerate too much how biblically literate they are, and overstate the case. Given the wholesale nonsense we find in many evangelical circles today, this aspect is probably getting worse all the time, too. But I agree that they do much better at it than Catholics. If they have 10% involvement, ours is maybe 1%, so they are, maybe (rough estimate from my own experience) ten times better than us in that respect.

* * *

I think a comprehensive Catholic Study Bible should have scholarly notes and apologetics and devotional, practical elements: put all those things together in one big package rather than create separate Bibles for devotion, scholarship, apologetics, etc.

* * *

If a priest can give a good, understandable homily, he can lead a Bible study. That would be a good test. But who will tell them they give a lousy homily? We don’t want a catch-22 where only uneducated laity teach. Isn’t that self-defeating? They need some knowledge and education in order to be able to teach effectively in the first place. I don’t think it is educational level that is the problem, so much as the fact that laypeople are fired up and motivated and orthodox, whereas too many clergy (for whatever reasons) lack those qualities. When priests have that pride that they can do it all, and no laypeople can help at all in teaching, usually it is a liberal mentality and the good ole clergy-laity dichotomy that the Church has urged against in many documents.

* * *

Women, especially, resonate with a more "practical / daily living" approach, but it can’t become too dominant, lest doctrine be minimized. Also, we must guard against the danger of philosophical pragmatism, which runs rampant in evangelicalism with the trendy, "give-the-people-the-service-they-like" nonsense that many evangelicals themselves are vehemently criticizing. The same could happen to us if we aren’t careful. Satan would love that.

* * *

I actually like the different day approach better, rather than Sunday school, because people seem to want to do things for shorter periods of time rather than long spaces of time stuck together. One has to determine how much to cater to the current preferences of human beings. If we want to emphasize practicality, then we'll have to bend somewhat to people’s felt needs: whether or not we accept them in and of themselves as legitimate and defensible. This is a large part of the task. The whole notion of applying this stuff to people’s everyday lives also has relevance to the very structure of the programs suggested, which also have to be applied to people’s everyday lives. Much as I immensely admire John Wesley (whose methods you seem to be largely suggesting), it is not at all certain that his methods are the best ones for all time, in all conceivable circumstances. That’s entirely debatable, just as any other method, as opposed to doctrine, is. Chances are that the best, most effective methods will differ in every age or era.

* * *

I’d say emphasize the Wednesday night thing but not that and Sunday School, because it probably won’t work, whatever its intrinsic merits are. If the thing doesn’t work and bring people out, it’ll fail in its purpose even if it is the best method in the world. It is an acknowledgment of the reality of how people are in 21st-century America. I’m as idealist as anyone, but we have to face facts of the present situation, too.

* * *

Do all people want to do meet in small groups, or have that need? Sometimes yes, other times not, and then we have to incorporate folks who prefer a less personal, more standard “classroom” environment; back to the question of felt needs, that are not all the same. Just the gender difference alone is a vastly different approach and collection of needs.

* * *

Traditionally, Catholics got plenty of fellowship through groups like Knights of Columbus and so forth. Also, parishes were neighborhoods in a sense much stronger than we see today. My own family goes to a church downtown, that has nothing to do with my neighborhood at all. And we do that because it is orthodox and traditional. Suburbs themselves are far less communitarian than the cities where Catholics usually congregated (often in ethnic conclaves). Now the “sociologist” from my college background is speaking! These factors have a lot to do with the lessening of fellowship: not simply the lack of Protestant methods. This ought to be noted, lest someone think that Catholics have always been deficient in these regards, whereas I highly doubt that that was the case. We can’t project our time onto all of Catholic history. Even 50 years ago it was vastly different in the social sense.

* * *

My own kids go to three thriving teen groups at a Catholic parish nearby (not our own). This is providing them with tons of fellowship and teaching, too, and retreats and social outreaches. It’s a positive example of what can be done. This works because of the desire that teens have to fellowship (and to meet mates). But that doesn’t always transfer to older groups. The singles group where I met my wife Judy in the Assemblies of God was of a similar nature. They work because of the strong needs of that age group to congregate and do “fun” activities together, with fellow Christians. At least it is something that is happening in Catholic circles that has some excitement and participation in it. My kids are greatly benefiting from it.

* * *

Bible memorization is not an unmixed blessing. Sometimes it can encourage a fundamentalist-type “prooftexting” mentality that tends to go towards the Protestant sola Scriptura approach and neglect context.

* * *

Despite all of this biblical emphasis in Protestantism, what overall result has been produced? We see an evangelicalism increasingly fractured and soaked-through with a number of false notions, such as privatization, subjectivism, pragmatism, faddism (that I was reading about 25 years ago in Schaeffer and Os Guinness), that cannot achieve doctrinal unity, nor can it even achieve a consensus on issues like abortion, divorce, contraception, et al. Catholicism has avoided much of that nonsense and has correct doctrine and moral teaching. In other words, people can know the Bible backwards and forwards, but still interpret it wrongly and arrive at damnable conclusions on any number of issues.

In a sense, then, it is far better (given a hypothetical stark choice) to have a Catholic simply accept Church teachings on faith, than a Protestant who knows his Bible like the back of his hand, but is wrong on many important issues, even to the extent of endangering his soul, and has no or very little sense of the history of Christian doctrine. That’s why my own personal belief is that solid catechetics and apologetics are relatively a lot more important than Bible study per se, because it has the built-in doctrinal standards and interpretation of the Bible according to the Church. All this strong, very “Protestant”-like emphasis you put on Bible study, I would put on catechesis and apologetics. Bible study can certainly be part of that, but I wouldn’t place it as the highest priority. And this has been proven in practice, by dioceses that have good teaching and solid bishops, and by parishes with an apologetic emphasis, that are growing by leaps and bounds. The apologetics movement is a revival right now. It’s working. So it would be good to include it in this overall mix.

* * *

It's fine, but is it really necessary to read one's Bible along with the priest during his homily? Reading is not obviously preferable to hearing. Hearing things is just as effective a communication (and this is presupposed in biblical passages about oral tradition), though on the other hand, I’ve heard it said that the more senses one involves, the better they remember. One could argue, then, that it would be a memory aid, if nothing else. When Paul and Peter preached, people weren’t following along with Bibles.

* * *

I think the goal should be a deeper one: to enamor people with doctrinal Catholic truth, however they receive it. That can be achieved by homilies or good Bible teaching, or traditional catechetics, or apologetics, RCIA, adult formation classes, or through more devotional practices that have a secondary doctrinal emphasis. I have no objection whatever to any Bible study. My own emphasis is obviously overwhelmingly biblical. I’m just saying that it is not necessarily an absolute requirement to read the Bible while at Mass. One can encourage it without making out that it is a necessity, or that those who prefer not to do it are somehow second-class simply because they are able to effectively hear a passage without also reading it (like a number of emphases in evangelicalism make people feel). It’s a matter of good and better, not good and bad. If it gets too legalistic, it’ll fail and these goals of increased Catholic biblical literacy won’t even get off the ground.


* * *

Protestants are reading the Bible but they don’t arrive at doctrinal truths in many many cases. To the extent that one disconnects Bible study from Catholic dogma and guidance, to that extent, there will be more error and more people leaving the Church, because they might adopt the Protestant principle private judgment. It’s a danger that has to be vigilantly avoided.

* * *

There must be some reason that the Church in her wisdom has arrived at certain methods in the Mass. It would be good for us to fully understand those before setting out on some reform of the Mass. Chesterton wrote in The Everlasting Man:
It is chiefly interesting as evidence that the boldest plans for the future invoke the authority of the past; and that even a revolutionary seeks to satisfy himself that he is also a reactionary.
We can appeal to Methodist Past (Sunday School, that John Wesley began) and Evangelical Present (various "people-friendly" methods and tactics, but how about Catholic Past? It is not true, I highly suspect, that the Catholic Church has always failed to properly teach the Bible and never at any time or place did it right. That’s why I think we need to do an intensive study of these aspects through Church history and look for a model that worked in the past or in some other culture today, that was fully Catholic.

* * *

Given a theoretical choice, I’d be much more happy about Catholics being comfortable with Catholic dogma in its entirety “in their hands” (as opposed to the Bible) and an understanding of same and ability to share and defend it. That can be achieved through many means, including the Bible but also Sacred Tradition and Church proclamations and philosophy and apologetics. To share and defend Catholic truth is also more than simply citing biblical texts (much as I do that myself). It involves reason and an understanding of history and the Catholic Mind, and systematic theology. All of this comes through teaching that is not confined to the Bible itself; yet we can underestimate the importance of these things, if we place overwhelming emphasis on Bible study. It’s a very complex discussion. I’ve been accused more than once of applying sola Scriptura methods in my apologetics. I don’t at all; they don’t get it (they presuppose that any Bible citation at all entails sola Scriptura, which is ludicrous), but the very objection illustrates the confusion between the Protestant and Catholic ways of viewing authority.

* * *

Reading the Bible along with the priest shouldn’t be an absolute requirement. To do so looks down on oral teaching, which is impossible to do based on the Bible alone. All the oral teaching in the NT was done without folks sitting with a NT in their hands while they heard it. This oral tradition had every bit as much authority in and of itself as the later written Bible did. That being the case, it is impossible to say that listening to this inspired word being read today is insufficient in its purpose if a person isn’t also physically reading it.

If we want to get really technical, it is not at all clear to me that even Bible memorization is required. I don’t try to memorize the Bible; I try to habitually use it and study it. That’s two different things. If a person wants to memorize large parts of it, great. More power to them. Is it necessary for all to do? No, not at all. It is necessary – again – to understand the Catholic faith in its entirety, so that it becomes part of us, and so that we can effectively share it and give reasons for why we believe what we believe. All of that requires far more than mere Bible memorization. You can quote a Bible verse at a person but as soon as he asks why you apply it the way you do then you have to go to other Bible passages and to reason and Tradition. The good Catholic apologist can literally wipe the floor with a Bible-soaked fundamentalist Protestant in debate because the latter quite often has no inkling of his premises and how to consistently apply biblical teaching to doctrine.

* * *

I would highly recommend for anyone pondering this topic, that they read Cardinal Newman’s On the Inspiration of Scripture, available online.

* * *

I would be less inclined to tout evangelicals for understanding of the incorporation of the Bible into the full Catholic life. Yes, they do manage to get people enthused about the Bible, but that is only about 25% of the battle, in my opinion, per my comments above. If we're simply talking about Bible enthusiasm and familiarity, then sure, of course: evangelicals do far, far better than Catholics at the present time. If we're talking about an overall passing on of the full, biblical, Catholic truth, on the other hand, we are better, at least in terms of what we actually teach (but that is the problem: getting it to the people so they can benefit from all this truth). Truth and fullness of truth are antecedent to proclamation and method.

* * *

It's somewhat like the debate in the 16th century, where Protestants cared relatively little for the accuracy of translation, and simply wanted to pass out Bibles by the millions. They reasoned that this would make people better Christians, or (depending on theology), Christians, period (i.e., "saved," in the evangelical sense). In some cases, yes, but the overall result was a rampant sectarianism and thus, theological relativism in many areas. This is one of the points I'm trying to make: simply having more Bible: reading, memorizing is not an unmixed good, because of human sin and what people too often wrongly do with the Bible (which is itself wonderful). I'm not so much disagreeing with Catholic Sunday School or a concentrated Bible reading program, as I am taking it to a deeper, more presuppositional level (as I often do: it is the socratic method, after all, that I love).

* * *

You mentioned a church that I attended for four years, and claim that Bible study attendance was 80% of the congregation. I'm not sure at all that the numbers were that high, but let's assume that they were. Did that mean that these people were mature Christians, with a deep understanding of Scripture? Hardly. You had mushy, milky preaching from the pulpit for the most part, and infatuation with Jim Bakker and PTL et al (before the scandal hit). Kenneth Copeland was not rebuked from the pulpit, even though his errors were believed by many in the church. I rarely learned anything from the sermons (and I wanted to, believe me). Dick Bieber's sermons at Messiah Lutheran had infinitely more meat and challenge in them. You had the stupid "name-it-claim it" doctrine running rampant. I went through this all the time, trying to reason with friends of mine in the singles group I was in. We personally knew people who didn't brush their teeth, or denied that they had a cold, because that was a bad "claim." You had ridiculous "prophesying" during services, and people going up front week after week to get "saved." Error was all over the place, so a lot of good tons of Bible study did, if they were not being disabused of their obvious errors. The use of the Bible is only as good as the knowledge and orthodoxy of those who are teaching it or reading it.

* * *

Part of my analysis is a warning based on past history and the influence on Catholics that Protestantism already has. It is a matter of human behavior (sometimes). I'm all for the Bible Study plan in its broad outlines, but unless we are aware of the dangers involved, then we'll be in for a big disappointment. You don't just rush into a thing without proper, sombre analysis. Per the Chesterton citation I gave, I think this sort of thing has to be undertaken with a deep knowledge of how these things were approached in the history of the Church. We can't just ape Protestant methods, and naively think that we won't have any of the huge problems that they themselves have had, largely because of those methods. There is an overlap. We can give our people Church and Tradition, but we have to be very careful not to fall into Protestant assumptions that are hostile to Catholicism, because it is very easy to do: those being often the more natural human responses and not to often the most reasonable or orthodox ones.

* * *

I don't want anyone to be afraid; only wise and properly prepared and aware of excesses that have already occurred in Protestant circles. We can learn from Protestant mistakes as well as their successes. Any methodology can be critiqued. It's not written in stone. This ain't doctrine; it's how to best promulgate doctrine and love and use of the Bible. Certainly honest men can differ about how to do that. I differ in some respects with other equally orthodox Catholics, and my overwhelming emphasis in my own apologetics is indeed the Bible. In other words, no one (who is at all familiar with my work) can possibly claim that I don't care about Bible reading and Bible study. My arguments are permeated with it from top to bottom. I could even say that I love nothing more. I'm simply offering constructive advice as I see it.

* * *

I'm not advocating not reading the Bible individually. Not at all! I fully agree with all the positive statements in that regard that the Church has made. But it has to be in the overall context of Catholic teaching (a thing that these same documents highly stress, for many of the same reasons I am giving). Arguably, many Catholics are not thinking sufficiently "Protestant" with respect to Bible reading and study and reverence (and one could rightly contend that they should because the evangelical Protestants have done better at that in practice). It is not inconceivable, however, that some aspects of Catholic thinking about the Bible may not be sufficiently Catholic. That's true -- or potentially true -- of all of us at all times. We have to be very self-consciously aware that we are in conformity with the Mind of the Church.

That's why I recommended reading Cardinal Newman on the topic: a man who was a fervent Protestant and then became a great Catholic thinker. That's the type of thing that will allow us to draw from the best in both traditions. But we can't just uncritically draw from Protestant successes in limited areas without giving past Catholic practice in this same regard its due, and thoroughly understanding its internal justifications. A Catholic should read, for example, the debates between St. Thomas More and William Tyndale, which illustrate the different ways that Protestants and Catholics approach the Bible.

* * *

I deny the whole root assumption that Protestants have, that every doctrine, even in particulars, has to have explicit biblical proof (which a Catholic notion of material sufficiency doesn't require), etc. It is the place of the Bible in the overall mix that they get quite wrong, and if we try to imitate them too much, we could possibly fall into the same error, almost despite ourselves. Bishops' fears about this are quite justified, based on historical precedent. There is a proper middle ground in all this.

* * *

I think we should ignore the clergy/laity distinction altogether when it comes to Bible study. We should simply pick the best man or woman to be found in the parish for the task. If that is the priest, he should do it. If he is too busy, or a layperson can do a better job, then they should do it. I don't see why we have to consciously restrict it to the laymen.

* * *

Catholic Bible study has to be placed in an overall context of traditional catechetics, apologetics, prayer meetings, devotional and spiritual elements and activities, eucharistic devotion: the whole nine yards.

* * *

I'm not against Bible memorization altogether, or indeed any kind of memorization, but only its insufficiency if it is done by "rote" without awareness of the larger principles embodied by the things memorized, or for mere "prooftexting" purposes, without sufficient background knowledge or awareness of systematic theology and the dogmas of the Church. If anyone reads what I wrote above about memorization very carefully, they'll see that I made many qualifications, and was not against the thing itself. Memory techniques are especially good for children (to use one example) because much of their learning in the very early stages is rote, anyway.

* * *

I was simply trying to point out that there is more to it than merely memorizing things. It is also not absolutely necessary to know passages by memory, as long as one has a general view of what the Bible and individual Bible books teach. We can look up things. We have many helpful resources now. We don't have to rely strictly on our own memories. This holds true much more so in cultures like our own, that are much more oriented to the written word, as opposed to entirely oral cultures that didn't even have writing, like (most of) the American Indians and others.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Mary's Perpetual Virginity "In Partu" (a Miraculous, Non-Natural Childbirth) is a Binding Catholic Dogma

By Dave Armstrong (9-24-08)

Mary's perpetual virginity is a dogma of the Catholic faith, and not to be questioned by the faithful, orthodox Catholic. It is a de fide dogma of the faith: defined at the 2nd Council of Constantinople in 553 (Denzinger 214, 218, 227), at the Lateran Synod of 649 (Denzinger 256), and by a proclamation of Pope Paul IV in 1555 (Denzinger 993).

Patristic evidences are very abundant (as are even early Protestant proclamations). Arguments from the Bible and early Church history and reason are strong as well.

"Ever-Virgin" means conception while remaining a virgin (Virgin Birth), virginity during childbirth, and perpetual virginity after the birth of Jesus (no siblings of Jesus or sexual activity).


The Church has interpreted Mary's virginity during the birth (in partu) as an inviolability of the hymen; in other words, it was a physically miraculous birth rather than a natural one. This, too, is a dogma of the Catholic Church.

Catholic apologist Mark Shea (who admitted that he was previously wrong on this issue, as I also was in a previous version of this paper), lays out all of the magisterial evidence from Denzinger, the Catechism, Vatican II and other sources, in a very helpful fashion in his paper, I Stand Corrected.

Dr. Ludwig Ott (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, pp. 203-207) appears to have been mistaken (a rare instance!) in his opinion to the contrary.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Critique of the "Quiverfull" and "Divine Family Planning" Positions on Childbirth (Which are Opposed to NFP)

By Dave Armstrong (9-20-08)

This more absolute position against contraception and in favor of large families (known as "Quiverfull") is one that Protestant friends of ours who have lots of kids have called "divine family planning."

In this thinking, married couples simply have sex, with no need to plan at all. They don't even need to think about it. They simply "let nature take its course" (which entails God's Providence in the end, in this matter, as is everything else in some sense). Whatever will be will be. The woman is either fertile or not. If not, there is no sin because there was no deliberate intent to avoid children. If so, then whether a conception occurs is left in the hands of God. Nothing is planned; the couple is simply completely open to procreation, and not trying to avoid it. It's a form of fatalism.

I think the crux of the matter is the nature of sufficient cause to avoid further children, and the limitations on the command to "be fruitful and multiply." I don't think it is a sin to intelligently, thoughtfully plan, in the matter of children. That is a matter of stewardship, just as in any related matter of care of that which God has entrusted to us. We are stewards of our children, as well as of our gifts and abilities and money and possessions and responsibilities, or our time. Hence, Pope Paul VI wrote in Humanae Vitae (16):
. . . the Church is the first to praise and recommend the intervention of intelligence in a function which so closely associates the rational creature with his Creator; but she affirms that this must be done with respect for the order established by God.
Paul VI goes on, in this passage, to explain the Catholic rationale for such Catholic planning and NFP:
If, then, there are serious motives to space out births, which derive from the physical or psychological conditions of husband and wife, or from external conditions, the Church teaches that it is then licit to take into account the natural rhythms immanent in the generative functions, for the use of marriage in the infecund periods only, and in this way to regulate birth without offending the moral principles which have been recalled earlier [20].
The Church is coherent with herself when she considers recourse to the infecund periods to be licit, while at the same time condemning, as being always illicit, the use of means directly contrary to fecundation, even if such use is inspired by reasons which may appear honest and serious. In reality, there are essential differences between the two cases; in the former, the married couple make legitimate use of a natural disposition; in the latter, they impede the development of natural processes. It is true that, in the one and the other case, the married couple are concordant in the positive will of avoiding children for plausible reasons, seeking the certainty that offspring will not arrive; but it is also true that only in the former case are they able to renounce the use of marriage in the fecund periods when, for just motives, procreation is not desirable, while making use of it i during infecund periods to manifest their affection and to safeguard their mutual fidelity. By so doing, they give proof of a truly and integrally honest love.
I think a related factor is the matter of heroic virtue. No woman is required to go to extraordinary lengths to have children, simply because she and her husband are commanded to multiply. There comes a point where it becomes "excessive" to some extent (in some cases, even to the point of morbidity). For example, if a woman has good medical reason to believe that she has, say, a 90% chance to miscarry (perhaps if she has had five in a row and has very weak ovaries and/or uterus), should she try to become pregnant, anyway? I say no, and I think it is very clearly no. It is a reasonable and moral determination to make, that the risks are too great. We make such choices all the time in life.

It is not "anti-child" at all to come to such a conclusion. It is pro-woman. It is pro-reasonable expectation of failure and success. The same God Who allows new life to be conceived and Who gives us the privilege of taking part in this sublime miracle, has chosen to allow some women to have miscarriages and to suffer, or, for that matter, to be infertile. Those things have to be accepted, too, as part of God's will.

No one is forced in Christianity to undergo extraordinary, heroic suffering. A person may choose to do so, but it is not required. The woman in the hypothetical scenario above could choose to try to get pregnant again (she has a free will, and nothing restrains her from doing so, in terms of law or moral teaching), but no one should say she is required to, under pain of mortal sin. The Catholic Church does not requires such a thing at all, nor does it seem at all clear to me that the Bible does (when the relevant passages are properly scrutinized). Therefore, it is not wrong or immoral to avoid needless or extraordinary suffering, based on good reason to believe it will very likely occur. It is merely not heroic.


I'm now reading the interesting "Quiverfull" entry in Wikipedia. The error regarding human planning somehow being contrary to God's will is a typically Calvinist motif, leading to a certain "fatalism" which is contrary to Scripture. The biblical view of human cooperation with God is not "monergistic," as Calvinists call it, but synergistic. Here are a few scriptures that, in my opinion, clearly establish the latter:
1 Corinthians 3:9 For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.
KJV: For we are labourers together with God . . .
Phillips: In this work, we work with God . . .
Amplified: For we are fellow workmen -- joint promoters, laborers together -- with and for God . . .
The Greek for "labourer" is sunergos (Strong's word #4904). It appears (usually as "fellow labourer" or "helper," etc.) also in Rom 16:3,9,21, 2 Cor 1:24, 8:23, Phil 2:25, 4:3, Col 4:11, 1 Thess 3:2, Philem 1,24, and 3 Jn 8. The related sunergeo (#4903) is at Mk 16:20, Rom 8:28, 1 Cor 16:16, and James 2:22.
Baptist Greek scholar A.T. Robertson, in his Word Pictures in the New Testament, writes at 1 Corinthians 3:9:
. . . (co-workers of God) . . . God is the major partner in the enterprise of each life, but he lets us work with him.
Likewise, Marvin Vincent, in Word Studies of the New Testament, states:
'It is of God that ye are the fellow workers.'
W.E. Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words:
'Sunergos' denotes a worker with . . . See the R.V., 'God's fellow-workers.' (under "Work")
I rest my case. 1 Corinthians 3:9 thus clearly teaches direct cooperation of the believer with God. This would include, it seems apparent, such notions as "planning" and making intelligent choices, including the matter of children. And there are other such verses, too:
2 Corinthians 6:1 Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain.
Philippians 2:12b-13 . . . work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Mark 16:20 [ a disputed text, but still shows how the early Christians thought] And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it. Amen.
Furthermore, recently I replied to the similar notion that we have the Holy Spirit guiding us, and thus need no human teachers. I produced several passages showing that God uses human instruments to do His will (which is analogous to our planning while working together with God in the matter of conception):
Acts 15:25,28-29 (RSV) it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, . . . For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell."
Acts 20:28 Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son.
Acts 13:1-4 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyre'ne, Man'a-en a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleu'cia; and from there they sailed to Cyprus.

Back to the Wikipedia article. Protestant pastor John Piper is cited, making a criticism. I agree with him:
just because something is a gift from the Lord does not mean that it is wrong to be a steward of when or whether you will come into possession of it. It is wrong to reason that since A is good and a gift from the Lord, then we must pursue as much of A as possible. God has made this a world in which tradeoffs have to be made and we cannot do everything to the fullest extent. For kingdom purposes, it might be wise not to get married. And for kingdom purposes, it might be wise to regulate the size of one's family and to regulate when the new additions to the family will likely arrive. As Wayne Grudem has said, "it is okay to place less emphasis on some good activities in order to focus on other good activities.
Now, Piper, in the article from which this is cited, espouses contraception and sees no difference between that and NFP, so he doesn't understand the historic Christian objection to contraception (Luther and Calvin thought it was murder); doesn't even seem to have a clue. But in the above sentiment, he is essentially correct. The article also accurately describes the Catholic position:
The Catholic teaching therefore is that, while humankind have been commanded by God in Genesis to increase and multiply (Gen 2:18), parents also have a responsibility to their families and to society to ensure that the children they have, can be appropriately cared for. In addition, the health of the mother is a concern; having pregnancy after pregnancy with no recuperative time does not fall under responsible parenthood.
I have, I think, cast considerable doubt on one key premise of the "Quiverfull" philosophy: a skewed notion of how God's Providence relates to human free will and cooperation. We see, accordingly, that several adherents of this view (listed in the article) are either Calvinists or Baptists, who have a similar "monergistic" philosophy:

Doug Phillips (Reconstructionist; extreme Calvinist)
R.C. Sproul, Jr. (Calvinist)
Matthew Trewhella (Calvinist)
Jim Bob Duggar (Baptist)
Michael P. Farris (Baptist)

I couldn't determine the precise religious affiliation of central figures Mary Pride and the late Charles Provan.

I would argue, however, to be fair, that Piper is also a Calvinist, and he has a more nuanced view of our stewardship of God's good gifts. But then he thinks contraception is fine and dandy, too, so the reasoning in each case has to be considered individually. I'm merely highlighting some premises that contribute to a particular view of Divine Providence and how it relates to our lives in the matter of bearing children.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Catholic Women Priests? (Links)

By Dave Armstrong (9-16-08)

"The Ordination of Women to the Catholic Priesthood," Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

"Ordination is Not a Right: Why the Church Cannot Make Women Priests," Mark P. Shea (This Rock, May/June 2001)

"Why Can't Women Be Priests?," Jason Evert (This Rock, Jan. 2002)

"Women Priests: No Chance," Joanna Bogle (This Rock, Oct. 1997)

"Why No Women's Ordination," Michael J. Tortolani (This Rock, Jan. 1996)

Church Fathers on Female Ordination (This Rock, Nov. 2003)

"The Authority of Women," Monica Migliorino Miller (This Rock, July/Aug 1996)

"Catholic Women: A Case of Oppression?" Joanna Bogle (This Rock, May 1997)


How and When Does a Human Being Acquire a Soul? (Catholic Dogma)

By Dave Armstrong (9-16-08)

The fact of the matter (I hope everyone who doubts this will be happy to hear) is that the Catholic Church has fairly definitively settled this issue. It is NOT something "we are allowed to disagree with."

The definitive statement on the supernatural creation of the human soul occurred in the 1950 encyclical Humani Generis, written by Pope Pius XII. Here is the relevant passage:
36. For these reasons the Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter -- for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God. . . .
The pope doesn't however, state exactly when this occurs. Does that mean that Catholics are still out to sea on that question? No. It was probably the case that Pius XII was presupposing this, based on past precedent. Ninety-six years earlier, Blessed Pope Pius IX, in declaring the ex cathedra doctrine of Mary's Immaculate Conception, wrote:
Accordingly, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for the honor of the Holy and undivided Trinity, for the glory and adornment of the Virgin Mother of God, for the exaltation of the Catholic Faith, and for the furtherance of the Catholic religion, by the authority of Jesus Christ our Lord, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own: "We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful."
(Ineffabilis Deus, 1854)
If this occurred in the first instance of Mary's conception, then she obviously possessed a soul, since it was capable of obtaining original sin, but for the special act of grace. Therefore, this definition presupposes that human beings possess a soul from conception. If it were true of Mary, it would also be true of any human being, since she, too, is a created human being.
And again, Pope St. Pius X, wrote:
18. No, to the Christian intelligence the idea is unthinkable that the flesh of Christ, holy, stainless, innocent, was formed in the womb of Mary of a flesh which had ever, if only for the briefest moment, contracted any stain. And why so, but because an infinite opposition separates God from sin? There certainly we have the origin of the conviction common to all Christians that Jesus Christ before, clothed in human nature, He cleansed us from our sins in His blood, accorded Mary the grace and special privilege of being preserved and exempted, from the first moment of her conception, from all stain of original sin. . . .
22. But let people believe and confess that the Virgin Mary has been from the first moment of her conception preserved from all stain; . . .
(Ad Diem Illum Laetissimum / On the Immaculate Conception, 1904)
In the 1908 article, "Creationism," in the Catholic Encyclopedia, it is stated that "most neo-Scholastics hold that the rational soul is created and infused into the incipient human being at the moment of conception," and "the rational soul is infused into the organism at conception, as the modern opinion holds . . ." Likewise, the article, "Soul," from 1912, asserts: "Many modern theologians . . . maintain that a fully rational soul is infused into the embryo at the first moment of its existence."

Of course, that was prior to our modern understanding of genetics. Now we know that everything, physically, that the preborn child needs to grow to an adult, is present at the moment of conception, in the DNA. That has, no doubt, been a key factor in causing virtually all orthodox Catholic theologians to hold that this is also when the special creation of the soul occurs.


Even in the days when there was some debate on the subject, and some eminent theologians such as even St. Thomas Aquinas, due to the biological ignorance of the period, and in the school of Aristotelian philosophy and its primitive biology, thought that the soul only fully developed some period of time after conception, the Church nevertheless condemned abortion at all stages. This is blatantly contrary to the damnable lies that some self-interested, compromised pro-abortion politicians (e.g., Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi) are now spewing, as if the Catholic Church ever doubted that abortion were sinful:

Condemned propositions:
1184 34. It is permitted to bring about an abortion before the animation of the foetus, lest the girl found pregnant be killed or defamed.

1185 35. It seems probable that every foetus (as long as it is in the womb) lacks a rational soul and begins to have the same at the time that it is born; and consequently it will have to be said that no homicide is committed in any abortion.

(Pope Innocent XI, Various Errors on Moral Subjects (II) / Condemned in a decree of the Holy Office, March 4, 1679. Denzinger 1184-1185)
The Didache is one of the earliest non-biblical apostolic writings. It stated:
The second commandment in the Teaching means: Commit no murder, adultery, sodomy, fornication, or theft. Practise no magic, sorcery, abortion, or infanticide.

There was an extraordinary patristic consensus on the question:
Epistle of Barnabas: Those on the "way of darkness" include in 20.2, "the
murderers of children, aborting the work of God." (c. 132-138)
Tertullian, Apologeticum 9:8: For us, since murder has been forbidden, it
is also not permitted to dissolve  what is conceived in the womb while the
blood is being formed into a human being. It is an anticipation of murder
to keep one from being born; nor does it make a difference whether one
takes the life of one already born, or disturbs one in the process of being
born: even the one who is going to be a human being is one." Text from
Sources Chr├ętiennes No.108, p.184. (Written about 197 A.D.)

St. Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 52, to Cornelius: "He [the schismatic
Novatian] struck the womb of his wife with his heel and hurried an
abortion, thereby causing parricide." (Written about 251 AD)

St. Basil the Great, Epistle 138: "He who destroys the fetus deliberately
is guilty of murder."  PG 36:672. (Written about 375 AD)

St. Jerome, Epistle 22.13: [speaking of virgins] "Others drink for
sterility and commit murder on the human not yet sown. Some when they sense
that they have conceived by sin, consider the poisons for abortion, and
frequently die themselves along with it, and go to hell guilty of three
crimes: murdering themselves, committing adultery against Christ, and murder
against their unborn child." PL 22.401. (Written about 380 AD).

St. Ambrose, "On the Hexaemeron" 5:18: "The rich women, to avoid dividing
the inheritance among many, kill their own fetus in the womb and with
murderous juices extinguish in the genital chamber their children." PL
14:231. (Written about 386 AD).

St. John Chrysostom, "Homilies on Romans" 24: To destroy the fetus "is
something worse than murder." The one who does this "does no to take away
life that has already been born, but prevents it from being born." PG
60.626-27. (Written about 391 AD).

St. Augustine, "De nuptiis et concupiscentia" 1:15: "At times their lustful
cruelty or cruel lust goes so far as to obtain poisons to cause sterility;
and if this does not work,to somehow extinguish and destroy the fetus
conceived within the womb, wishing the offspring to be killed before living,
or if it was living in the womb, to be killed before being born." PL44:423-
24. (Written about 419 AD).

Pope Stephen V, "Epistle to Archbishop of Mainz," Sept 14, 887 (SA
670): "If he who destroys what is conceived in the womb by abortion is a
murderer, how much more is he unable to excuse himself of murder who kills
a child even one day old."
Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin, in an article on this very subject (This Rock, March 2002), clarifies as to St. Thomas Aquinas' views:
One of the arguments used by pro-abortion individuals is that it is permissible to kill an unborn child because nobody knows when the child gets a soul. Prior to this point, the unborn would not be a human being, and so killing it would not be homicide. . . .
It is sometimes claimed that Thomas Aquinas believed that the unborn did not acquire a soul until several weeks after conception. This is not true. Aquinas believed that the unborn had a soul (a rational, human soul) from the time it was conceived. However, following Aristotelian science, he (and a few other Western writers) thought that conception was an extended process that did not finish until forty or ninety days into the pregnancy: "The conception of the male finishes on the fortieth day and that of the woman on the ninetieth, as Aristotle says in the IX Book of the Animals" (Aquinas, Commentary on III Sentences 3:5:2).

Aquinas was correct that the unborn receive their souls at conception; he was merely mistaken on when conception was finished, due to the science available. As modern medicine has shown, conception in humans occurs almost instantaneously, as soon as the sperm and the ovum unite. This may occur as soon as twenty minutes after the marital act.

Aquinas and a few other medieval Western writers held the forty-to-ninety-day conception theory, but the biological discoveries of the nineteenth century proved it wrong. The view provides little comfort for abortion advocates today for a variety of reasons. It was based on primitive science. It draws a distinction between males and females that many today would regard as sexist. It was held by only a few writers. No single theologian (even Aquinas) speaks for the Church. The writers who favored the theory also opposed abortion as intrinsically evil at any stage.

When viewed without the lens of Aristotelian science, the biblical view of ensoulment becomes clear. In the Old Testament, the psalmist assumes the humanity of the unborn child at conception when he says, "Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me" (Ps. 51:5, NRSV). This indicates that the unborn child possesses a sinful, fallen nature at the time of conception (though it does not manifest in actual, personal sins until later; cf. Romans 9:11). Since sin is a spiritual phenomenon, the presence of a sinful nature indicates a spiritual nature and thus a soul, making the child a complete human being from conception.
Akin offers further (I think, rather strong) arguments from reason as to the existence of a soul since conception:
The possession of the soul at all stages of development is also indicated by natural reason, once one understands what a soul is. From an ultimate perspective, a human is comprised of a human soul serving as the substantial form of a human body (cf. Summa Theologiae I:75:4), as indicated in Genesis 2:7. The fact that a soul is needed to turn a human body into a human has sufficiently penetrated the popular consciousness that people recognize the presence of a soul is tied to the right to life.

This leads to the argument in which pro-abortion individuals try to turn the concept of the soul against pro-lifers by arguing that there is no empirical way of determining the presence the soul, making it a matter of faith or personal opinion.

One response to this argument is to take on the concept of the soul. According to biblical theology, the soul (the spirit) is the life-principle of the body. As such, so long as a human body is alive, it has a human soul, for, James tells us, "the body apart from the spirit is dead" (Jas. 2:26). This point of biblical theology was infallibly proclaimed, using philosophical terminology, by the Council of Vienna (1311–1312). The Council dogmatically defined that the soul is the substantial form of a living human body—the metaphysical form that gives the body its humanness and its life (DS 902 [D 481], CCC 365). When the soul departs, the body ceases to be living, loses its integrity, and begins to decay.

Given this, a pro-life advocate may say that there is an empirical test for the presence of the human soul. Though the soul itself cannot be empirically observed, its presence can be detected (just as an electron itself cannot be directly observed, but the presence of an electron can be detected through various scientific means). The test is simple: If you have a living human body, it is made alive by a human soul. This reduces the issue to the question of biological humanness.

Another way to deal with the argument is to turn the abortion activist’s assertion—that the soul is undetectable—against him. One may argue that if the soul is undetectable, then its presence or absence cannot be used as a test for humanness in a secular society. People cannot be allowed to terminate the lives of others based on their individual beliefs concerning whether their victims have souls. Therefore, we must rely on what we can test, which is whether a life form is biologically human.

This approach will often be more appropriate than arguing about the presence or absence of souls, especially when one is talking with a person of little or no religious faith. It also completely undercuts the argument that the rights of the unborn are a purely religious matter.
The late great Pope John Paul II eloquently summarized Catholic moral teaching on the soul of the preborn child, his or her intrinsic value, and abortion in his extraordinary 1995 encyclical, Evangelium Vitae (I've created handy links to many of the related Church documents that are referred to):
"For you formed my inmost being" (Psalm 139:13): The dignity of the unborn child
44. Human life finds itself most vulnerable when it enters the world and when it leaves the realm of time to embark upon eternity. The word of God frequently repeats the call to show care and respect, above all where life is undermined by sickness and old age. Although there are no direct and explicit calls to protect human life at its very beginning, specifically life not yet born, and life nearing its end, this can easily be explained by the fact that the mere possibility of harming, attacking, or actually denying life in these circumstances is completely foreign to the religious and cultural way of thinking of the People of God.
In the Old Testament, sterility is dreaded as a curse, while numerous offspring are viewed as a blessing: "Sons are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward" (Ps 127:3; cf. Ps 128:3-4). This belief is also based on Israel's awareness of being the people of the Covenant, called to increase in accordance with the promise made to Abraham: "Look towards heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them . . . so shall your descendants be" (Gen 15:5). But more than anything else, at work here is the certainty that the life which parents transmit has its origins in God. We see this attested in the many biblical passages which respectfully and lovingly speak of conception, of the forming of life in the mother's womb, of giving birth and of the intimate connection between the initial moment of life and the action of God the Creator.
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you" (Jer 1:5): the life of every individual, from its very beginning, is part of God's plan. Job, from the depth of his pain, stops to contemplate the work of God who miraculously formed his body in his mother's womb. Here he finds reason for trust, and he expresses his belief that there is a divine plan for his life: "You have fashioned and made me; will you then turn and destroy me? Remember that you have made me of clay; and will you turn me to dust again? Did you not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese? You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews. You have granted me life and steadfast love; and your care has preserved my spirit" (Job 10:8-12). Expressions of awe and wonder at God's intervention in the life of a child in its mother's womb occur again and again in the Psalms.[35]
How can anyone think that even a single moment of this marvellous process of the unfolding of life could be separated from the wise and loving work of the Creator, and left prey to human caprice? Certainly the mother of the seven brothers did not think so; she professes her faith in God, both the source and guarantee of life from its very conception, and the foundation of the hope of new life beyond death: "I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you. Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of man and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws" (2 Mac 7:22-23).
45. The New Testament revelation confirms the indisputable recognition of the value of life from its very beginning. The exaltation of fruitfulness and the eager expectation of life resound in the words with which Elizabeth rejoices in her pregnancy: "The Lord has looked on me. . . to take away my reproach among men" (Lk 1:25). And even more so, the value of the person from the moment of conception is celebrated in the meeting between the Virgin Mary and Elizabeth, and between the two children whom they are carrying in the womb. It is precisely the children who reveal the advent of the Messianic age: in their meeting, the redemptive power of the presence of the Son of God among men first becomes operative. As Saint Ambrose writes: "The arrival of Mary and the blessings of the Lord's presence are also speedily declared. . . Elizabeth was the first to hear the voice; but John was the first to experience grace. She heard according to the order of nature; he leaped because of the mystery. She recognized the arrival of Mary; he the arrival of the Lord. The woman recognized the woman's arrival; the child, that of the child. The women speak of grace; the babies make it effective from within to the advantage of their mothers who, by a double miracle, prophesy under the inspiration of their children. The infant leaped, the mother was filled with the Spirit. The mother was not filled before the son, but after the son was filled with the Holy Spirit, he filled his mother too".[36]
[ . . . ]
"Your eyes beheld my unformed substance" (Psalm 139:16): The unspeakable crime of abortion
58. Among all the crimes which can be committed against life, procured abortion has characteristics making it particularly serious and deplorable. The Second Vatican Council defines abortion, together with infanticide, as an "unspeakable crime".[54]
But today, in many people's consciences, the perception of its gravity has become progressively obscured. The acceptance of abortion in the popular mind, in behaviour and even in law itself, is a telling sign of an extremely dangerous crisis of the moral sense, which is becoming more and more incapable of distinguishing between good and evil, even when the fundamental right to life is at stake. Given such a grave situation, we need now more than ever to have the courage to look the truth in the eye and to call things by their proper name, without yielding to convenient compromises or to the temptation of self-deception. In this regard the reproach of the Prophet is extremely straightforward: "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness" (Is 5:20). Especially in the case of abortion there is a widespread use of ambiguous terminology, such as "interruption of pregnancy", which tends to hide abortion's true nature and to attenuate its seriousness in public opinion. Perhaps this linguistic phenomenon is itself a symptom of an uneasiness of conscience. But no word has the power to change the reality of things: procured abortion is the deliberate and direct killing, by whatever means it is carried out, of a human being in the initial phase of his or her existence, extending from conception to birth.
The moral gravity of procured abortion is apparent in all its truth if we recognize that we are dealing with murder and, in particular, when we consider the specific elements involved. The one eliminated is a human being at the very beginning of life. No one more absolutely innocent could be imagined. In no way could this human being ever be considered an aggressor, much less an unjust aggressor! He or she is weak, defenceless, even to the point of lacking that minimal form of defence consisting in the poignant power of a newborn baby's cries and tears. The unborn child is totally entrusted to the protection and care of the woman carrying him or her in the womb. And yet sometimes it is precisely the mother herself who makes the decision and asks for the child to be eliminated, and who then goes about having it done.
It is true that the decision to have an abortion is often tragic and painful for the mother, insofar as the decision to rid herself of the fruit of conception is not made for purely selfish reasons or out of convenience, but out of a desire to protect certain important values such as her own health or a decent standard of living for the other members of the family. Sometimes it is feared that the child to be born would live in such conditions that it would be better if the birth did not take place. Nevertheless, these reasons and others like them, however serious and tragic, can never justify the deliberate killing of an innocent human being.
59. As well as the mother, there are often other people too who decide upon the death of the child in the womb. In the first place, the father of the child may be to blame, not only when he directly pressures the woman to have an abortion, but also when he indirectly encourages such a decision on her part by leaving her alone to face the problems of pregnancy:[55] in this way the family is thus mortally wounded and profaned in its nature as a community of love and in its vocation to be the "sanctuary of life". Nor can one overlook the pressures which sometimes come from the wider family circle and from friends. Sometimes the woman is subjected to such strong pressure that she feels psychologically forced to have an abortion: certainly in this case moral responsibility lies particularly with those who have directly or indirectly obliged her to have an abortion. Doctors and nurses are also responsible, when they place at the service of death skills which were acquired for promoting life.
But responsibility likewise falls on the legislators who have promoted and approved abortion laws, and, to the extent that they have a say in the matter, on the administrators of the health-care centres where abortions are performed. A general and no less serious responsibility lies with those who have encouraged the spread of an attitude of sexual permissiveness and a lack of esteem for motherhood, and with those who should have ensured--but did not--effective family and social policies in support of families, especially larger families and those with particular financial and educational needs. Finally, one cannot overlook the network of complicity which reaches out to include international institutions, foundations and associations which systematically campaign for the legalization and spread of abortion in the world. In this sense abortion goes beyond the responsibility of individuals and beyond the harm done to them, and takes on a distinctly social dimension. It is a most serious wound inflicted on society and its culture by the very people who ought to be society's promoters and defenders. As I wrote in my Letter to Families, "we are facing an immense threat to life: not only to the life of individuals but also to that of civilization itself".[56] We are facing what can be called a "structure of sin" which opposes human life not yet born.
60. Some people try to justify abortion by claiming that the result of conception, at least up to a certain number of days, cannot yet be considered a personal human life. But in fact, "from the time that the ovum is fertilized, a life is begun which is neither that of the father nor the mother; it is rather the life of a new human being with his own growth. It would never be made human if it were not human already. This has always been clear, and. . . modern genetic science offers clear confirmation. It has demonstrated that from the first instant there is established the programme of what this living being will be: a person, this individual person with his characteristic aspects already well determined. Right from fertilization the adventure of a human life begins, and each of its capacities requires time--a rather lengthy time--to find its place and to be in a position to act".
[57] CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Declaration on Procured Abortion [ LINK ] (18 November 1974), NOS. 12-13: AAS 66 (1974), 738.
Even if the presence of a spiritual soul cannot be ascertained by empirical data, the results themselves of scientific research on the human embryo provide "a valuable indication for discerning by the use of reason a personal presence at the moment of the first appearance of a human life: how could a human individual not be a human person?".
[58] CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation Donum Vitae (22 February 1987), I, No. 1: AAS 80 (1988), 78-79.
Furthermore, what is at stake is so important that, from the standpoint of moral obligation, the mere probability that a human person is involved would suffice to justify an absolutely clear prohibition of any intervention aimed at killing a human embryo. Precisely for this reason, over and above all scientific debates and those philosophical affirmations to which the Magisterium has not expressly committed itself, the Church has always taught and continues to teach that the result of human procreation, from the first moment of its existence, must be guaranteed that unconditional respect which is morally due to the human being in his or her totality and unity as body and spirit: "The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life".
[59] Ibid., loc. cit., 79.
61. The texts of Sacred Scripture never address the question of deliberate abortion and so do not directly and specifically condemn it. But they show such great respect for the human being in the mother's womb that they require as a logical consequence that God's commandment "You shall not kill" be extended to the unborn child as well.
Human life is sacred and inviolable at every moment of existence, including the initial phase which precedes birth. All human beings, from their mothers' womb, belong to God who searches them and knows them, who forms them and knits them together with his own hands, who gazes on them when they are tiny shapeless embryos and already sees in them the adults of tomorrow whose days are numbered and whose vocation is even now written in the "book of life" (cf. Ps 139: 1, 13-16). There too, when they are still in their mothers' womb--as many passages of the Bible bear witness
[60] Hence the Prophet Jeremiah: "The word of the Lord came to me saying: 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations"' (1:4-5). The Psalmist, for his part, addresses the Lord in these words: "Upon you I have leaned from my birth; you are he who took me from my mother's womb" (Ps 71:6; cf. Is 46:3; Job 10:8-12; Ps 22:10-11). So too the Evangelist Luke in the magnificent episode of the meeting of the two mothers, Elizabeth and Mary, and their two sons, John the Baptist and Jesus, still hidden in their mothers' wombs (cf. 1:39-45) emphasizes how even before their birth the two little ones are able to communicate: the child recognizes the coming of the Child and leaps for joy.
--they are the personal objects of God's loving and fatherly providence.
Christian Tradition--as the Declaration issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith points out so well
[61] Cf. Declaration on Procured Abortion (18 November 1974), No. 7: AAS 66 (1974), 740-747.
--is clear and unanimous, from the beginning up to our own day, in describing abortion as a particularly grave moral disorder. From its first contacts with the Greco-Roman world, where abortion and infanticide were widely practised, the first Christian community, by its teaching and practice, radically opposed the customs rampant in that society, as is clearly shown by the Didache mentioned earlier.
[62] "You shall not kill a child by abortion nor shall you kill it once it is born": V, 2: Patres Apostolici, ed. F.X. Funk, I, 17.
Among the Greek ecclesiastical writers, Athenagoras records that Christians consider as murderesses women who have recourse to abortifacient medicines, because children, even if they are still in their mother's womb, "are already under the protection of Divine Providence".
[63] Apologia on behalf of the Christians, 35: PG 6, 969.
Among the Latin authors, Tertullian affirms: "It is anticipated murder to prevent someone from being born; it makes little difference whether one kills a soul already born or puts it to death at birth. He who will one day be a man is a man already".
[64] Apologeticum, IX, 8: CSEL 69, 24.
Throughout Christianity's two thousand year history, this same doctrine has been constantly taught by the Fathers of the Church and by her Pastors and Doctors. Even scientific and philosophical discussions about the precise moment of the infusion of the spiritual soul have never given rise to any hesitation about the moral condemnation of abortion.
62. The more recent Papal Magisterium has vigorously reaffirmed this common doctrine. Pius XI in particular, in his Encyclical Casti Connubii, rejected the specious justifications of abortion.
[65] Cf. Encyclical Letter Casti Connubii [ LINK ](31 December 1930), 1: AAS 22 (1930), 562-592.
Pius XII excluded all direct abortion, i.e., every act tending directly to destroy human life in the womb "whether such destruction is intended as an end or only as a means to an end".
[66] Address to the Biomedical Association "San Luca" (12 November 1944): Discorsi e Radiomessaggi, VI (1944-1945), 191; cf. Address to the Italian Catholic Union of Midwives (29 October 1951), No. 2: AAS 43 (1951), 838.
John XXIII reaffirmed that human life is sacred because "from its very beginning it directly involves God's creative activity".
[67] Encyclical Letter Mater et Magistra [ LINK ] (15 May 1961), 3: AAS 53 (1961), 447.
The Second Vatican Council, as mentioned earlier, sternly condemned abortion: "From the moment of its conception life must be guarded with the greatest care, while abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes".
[68] Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 51.
The Church's canonical discipline, from the earliest centuries, has inflicted penal sanctions on those guilty of abortion. This practice, with more or less severe penalties, has been confirmed in various periods of history. The 1917 Code of Canon Law punished abortion with excommunication.
[69] Canon 2350, # 1.
The revised canonical legislation continues this tradition when it decrees that "a person who actually procures an abortion incurs automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication".
[70] Code of Canon Law, canon 1398; cf. Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 1450, # 2.
The excommunication affects all those who commit this crime with knowledge of the penalty attached, and thus includes those accomplices without whose help the crime would not have been committed.
[71] Cf. ibid., canon 1329; also Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 1417.
By this reiterated sanction, the Church makes clear that abortion is a most serious and dangerous crime, thereby encouraging those who commit it to seek without delay the path of conversion. In the Church the purpose of the penalty of excommunication is to make an individual fully aware of the gravity of a certain sin and then to foster genuine conversion and repentance.
Given such unanimity in the doctrinal and disciplinary tradition of the Church, Paul VI was able to declare that this tradition is unchanged and unchangeable.
[72] Cf. Address to the National Congress of Italian Jurists (9 December 1972): AAS 64 (1972), 777; Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae [ LINK ] (25 July 1968), 14: AAS 60 (1968), 490.
Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops--who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine--I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church's Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.
[73] Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 25.
No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church.