Thursday, March 15, 2012

Roman Catholic Confusion on Contraception in the Bible

You can't make this stuff up:

Genesis 38 is about contraception:
Bottom line is that God killed Onan for some reason. The only plausible reason we have from the text itself is contraception. A straightforward reading of the text lends itself readily to that interpretation (though not absolutely of logical necessity).[source]
Genesis 38 is not about contraception:
"In the case of Onan, you are right that the common Catholic reliance on this passage as a proof text against contraception or masturbation is a weak one and wrong-headed" [Source: Mark Shea. What Does it Mean to Say Jesus has Fulfilled the Old Covenant?].

Hat tip: Catholic Champion. Good catch Matthew.

30 comments:

Constantine said...

Hi James,

This is a very interesting topic.

Interestingly, the two contradictory statements you cite are more indicative of Rome's vacillation on this issue which is the real story. Theirs never has been a consistent stance on contraception. The fact that the "Champ" is also wrong makes it all the more interesting.

I remember interacting with him on this subject and he was not even aware of the legitimate, peer reviewed Roman Catholic scholarship on the subject that so starkly contradicted him. Which, again, is an indication of the ever-changing RC stance on this issue.

At any rate, this is a topic that will be sure to stir the pot.

I'm watching in anticipation!

Peace.

Rhology said...

Door #3 - masturbation has nothing to do with contraception.

Chuck Wiese said...

Just for the record, I'm a Lutheran. But Calvin also believed this passage opposed contraception. In fact, up until 1930, all Protestant denominations opposed the use of birth control. The Anglican church was the first to allow limited use of birth control.

We are called to be fruitful and multiply. I think there may be certain medical situations where the use of some non-abortifacient form of birth control may be a lesser evil than putting a woman's life in danger but it is still an evil. If you want to know why the church isn't growing and the economy is bad, one of the big contributors is birth control.

But regardless of where we stand on the specific issue of birth control I think we should be standing with the Roman Catholics in support of religious freedom. Roman Catholic organizations should not be forced by the government to provide something that is against their teachings.

EA said...

"But regardless of where we stand on the specific issue of birth control I think we should be standing with the Roman Catholics in support of religious freedom. Roman Catholic organizations should not be forced by the government to provide something that is against their teachings."

I agree with you on the 1st Amendment implications of this, though I disagree with the RCC on contraception.

To be specific, onanism is an incorrect exegesis of Gen. 38.

Nick said...

That Mark Shea is in direct opposition to Catholic Tradition (e.g. Pope Pius XI's Encyclical saying Gen 38 is about contraception) demonstrates nothing as far as Protestant Apologetics goes. At most it means Mark is not being faithful, at the least it means Mark simply didn't know any better and made an honest mistake.

(since Blogger has been recently "improved" it seems follow up comments are disabled)

Steve "scotju" Dalton said...

Constantine, Rome has never changed on birth control. Some Catholics did, and some prelates have made confusing statements about it, but the offical dogma is still in place. As for "legitimate, peer reviewed, Roman Catholic scholarship", those scholars are not the magisterium. They carry no weight in what the Church offically teaches.
Rhology, if the sex act is carried out with no intention of procreation, it's defacto masturbation.
Chuck, love your icon! I also love the way you told the truth about birth control.
EA, your comment shows you don't know the history of how Genesis 38 was interpeted.
Nick, I don't thick Mark made an honest "mistake'. he's been a Catholic for over two decades, their's no way he can be that ignorant, unless it's willful.
James, didn't John Bugay's sloppy research and articles on BA a year and a half ago teach you anything about avoiding the same mistakes?

James Swan said...

Keep in mind, I'm not really interested in this topic. It's more than enough for me that Rome's self-proclaimed interpreters don't agree with each other.

EA said...

"EA, your comment shows you don't know the history of how Genesis 38 was interpreted."

That's because I'm not particularly concerned about the "history" of how it was interpreted. I'm concerned with the quality of the exegesis, not the age of it. If more recent interpretation makes a more compelling and cogent case, that works for me.

Despite your protestations, Catholics operate the same way. For example, JP2 and Benedict XVI doubt(ed) the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, they don't (or didn't) appear too concerned about the history of whether the ECF regarded Moses as the author of the first books of the Bible.

EBW said...

Rome has been pretty good in teaching against artificial contraception. Instead, it has carefully looked for the infecund periods to engage in lawful activity. The results of contraception without contraception !
They do something like this with modern church teachings and tradition. Looking for the infecund periods in church history to engage in lawful activity (teaching), but no fecundity of truth !

Constantine said...

Hi Steve,

Rome has certainly changed on contraception.

I'd encourage you to read the preeminent Roman Catholic scholar John Noonan's work on the topic. (Noonan, by the way, has a Ph.D. from the Catholic University of America.) He documents how the church had no real position until the 8th century. And then, its opposition was not against contraception per se, but against contraception because it appeared to be "black magic" and as such may have been aligned with the black arts.

Noonan does a great job of documenting how Pope Innocent III actually supported abortion as a contraceptive technique. Other writers note that Rome has a "saint" that was pro-choice. And still others document how the current fad of "life begins at conception" takes the church back to a Cartesian dualism from which the incarnational view was designed to free it.

More than that Augustine, Jerome and Aquinas were certainly at odds with the current Roman view.

So it's not hard at all, to see that Rome has changed its position on contraception - frequently in fact. If Rome had not changed its stance on contraception, then that doctrine would certainly be unique in the Roman pantheon because all of Rome's doctrines and dogmas have changed - and most diametrically.



Peace.

Chuck Wiese said...

Innocent III and others still understood abortion to be sinful. Innocent III was dealing with a specific monk who had accidentally caused a woman to miscarry. The issue was not over whether or not the act was sinful but over whether or not the monk should be charged with homicide and removed from his clerical position. There was general agreement that the destruction of the early human embryo was a mortal sin but disagreement over whether or not the person should be charged with homicide. Most of this had to do with philosophical speculations about ensoulment. Some believed that ensoulment did not take place or at least could not be verified until the woman could feel the baby's movement.

Those who support the sexual revolution have selectively quoted from certain texts to try to make it sound like Innocent III and the Roman Catholic Church in general never definitively said that abortion is a sin but that's a dishonest way to read the texts.

I think there are serious problems with Roman Catholic theology and Roman Catholic councils have certainly contradicted one another but I really think this is the wrong approach. It seems better to deal with those issues that actually led to the Reformation and are at the heart of the issue rather than deal with later Protestant developments. It's not as if Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses because Tetzel wouldn't let him wear a rubber.

Dozie said...

"Interestingly, the two contradictory statements you cite are more indicative of Rome's vacillation on this issue which is the real story".

What is bizarre about the above statement is that a “thinking person” can presumably put the Church’s magisterium on one side and Mark Shea on the other, as though they have equal authority, and then conclude that if they make contradictory statements it is evidence the Catholic Church vacillates on the issue of contraception, is inconsistent, and therefore an attentive person cannot understand where the Church stands on the issue of contraception. This is purely a dishonest position to take. Even the hostile and liberal media know what the Church teaches. It is because the media understand the Catholic position that they have turned the whole fight against the HHS mandate into a Catholic issue. Where does your church stand on the contraception issue? Who in the world knows what your church teaches on this very question? Who has taken up your church based on its stand on the issue? Physician, heal thy self.

Pete Holter said...

We are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves (cf. Leviticus 19:18), and, as Paul says, “no one ever hated his own flesh” (Ephesians 5:29).

If it was sinful for Onan to do what he did in order to prevent the conception of his firstborn son for the sake of his brother Er, and if the love of self serves as a basis and bar for the love of neighbor, then all the more is it sinful and disordered for us to take similar actions in order to prevent the conception of our own children. Therefore, I think that Augustine’s interpretation, as quoted by Pius XI, is correct. :)

With love in Christ,
Pete

James Swan said...

The Roman Catholics here have to realize that when you folks interpret the Bible and disagree with each other as to what it means, you're helping me demonstrate that on a fundamental epistomological level many Roman Catholic arguments against Reformation principles are not valid.

Once again, I want to express my gratitude to the Catholic Champion blog for being such a constant source of helpful examples of Roman Catholic double standards within Roman Catholic apologetics. Every time Matthew goes after a fellow Roman Catholic, he warms my Protestant heart. I'm almost tempted to give him co-blogger status here and let him post here- His posts are that helpful in defeating Roman Catholic argumentation.

Constantine said...

My friend Pete's "If" supports James' premise that RC biblical interpretation is all over the place.

Further to James's point, here is a true RC scholar's reflection on Genesis 38:

“…Onan had broken a law designed to perpetuate the name of the elder son. He had disobeyed his father. He had also shown a want of family feeling and at the same time displayed an introverted egotism. Moreover, he had appeared to accept the obligation placed upon him to marry his widowed sister-in-law, but by his acts he had frustrated the purpose of the obligation…”…“Was Onan punished for his disobedience, for his lack of family feeling, for his egotism, for his evasion of an obligation assumed, for his contraceptive acts, or for a combination of these faults?…That contraception as such is condemned seems unlikely. There is no commandment against contraception in any of the codes of law.”

Contraception: A History of Its Treatments by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.) p 35


You see, Pete, there was no context with which to interpret Genesis 38 as an indictment against contraception. There was no "commandment against contraception in any of the codes of law.”

So that, again, makes James's point. Reading Onan's story as an indictment of contraception is merely anachronistic. Your "if" is strictly yours.

Thanks, again, James. And I now get your meaning with regard to the "Champ".

Peace.

Constantine said...

@Chuck Wiese

Chuck,

Innocent didn’t come to the defense of an “accidental” miscarriage. The friar in question “caused” his mistress to abort.


Again to support James’s overall point, your contention that “The issue was not over whether or not the act was sinful but over whether or not the monk should be charged with homicide…” shows just how far the RC position has changed. You could not find a Roman Catholic cleric today, who would believe that abortion at any stage was not murder. So the fact that Innocent didn’t believe it to be murder is on point.


And I think you err when you assert that, “There was general agreement that the destruction of the early human embryo was a mortal sin but disagreement over whether or not the person should be charged with homicide.”

In speaking of the period of Innocent III, the RC scholar John Noonan wrote this:

“Thereafter, the condemnation appeared as the assertion of authority, as the established doctrine of the Fathers, as the law set out by the papacy. This authoritative condemnation was applied to the contraceptive behavior encountered in the later Middle Ages. Yet if authority existed and dominated analysis, it was not authority of the strongest kind. No single biblical text had gained undisputed rule over the field…Genesis 38 had been treated sometimes, but not universally, as decisive. No ecumenical council had spoken on the subject. No Pope had issued against contraception a letter in his own name. Noonan, John T., Jr. Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986

So whatever the ‘general agreement’ is to which you allude, it did not include the endorsement of any church council or writings of a single pope. I don’t think Noonan can be accused of “selectively quoting” the texts.

You are closer to the mark with your comments about ensoulment. But that line of reasoning simply lends further support to James. The Roman Catholic position has been all over the place on this issue. Augustine held to the Aristotelian view; Aquinas’s variation is described as “hylomorphic” which was a modified view of delayed ensoulment; and of course, the current RC fad is that life “begins at the moment of conception.”

So James is to be commended for holding the “Champ” and his colleagues up to the light.

Peace.

Pete Holter said...

Constantine!

My brother from another community! :) Hey, did you know that you never got back to me on TurretinFan’s Zosimus thread?

Why do you think that Onan was put to death?

With love in Christ,
Pete

James Swan said...

My friend Pete's "If" supports James' premise that RC biblical interpretation is all over the place.

This point needs to be shouted, often. Discussions with Roman Catholics often assume common ground. We don't have any common ground with them. They claim an infallible interpreter, let's hold them to it. If a Roman Catholic quotes the Bible, the first response should be... "Why are you doing that?"

Pete Holter said...

I just commented on Mark Shea’s article…

Greetings in Christ, Mark!

James Swan has picked up on this post in a post of his own, titled, “Roman Catholic Confusion on Contraception in the Bible.” He highlighted the place where you say that “you are right that the common Catholic reliance on this passage as a proof text against contraception or masturbation is a weak one and wrong-headed.” And he is using it as a weapon against the unity of Christ’s Church. I know that you and I agree on the one faith of Christ, and that we would worship together in the same congregation if we were local to one another. But I would still like to take this weapon of division out of the way.

You are making the care of widows the focus of Genesis 38 by saying that “children were the sole ‘social safety net’ that widows had,” and you come back to this main point in your response to George; but the care of widows is something separate from situations involving heirs and inheritance rights. When these latter types of situations arise, the Biblical texts explicitly state that providing offspring and preserving property is done, not for the sake of the widow, but for the sake of the father or deceased brother who has no heir (cf. Genesis 38, Numbers 27:1-11, Numbers 36, Deuteronomy 25:5-10). The actual care of widows, on the other hand, gains its mention when social philanthropy is in view (cf. Exodus 22:21-24; Deuteronomy 24:17-22).

The Book of Ruth helps us to illustrate this distinction. In keeping with the statutes of the Law of Moses, Boaz provides for the needs of Ruth without approaching her in marriage (cf. Ruth 2), and when she later approaches him, he perceives that she is the one extending great kindness to him (cf. Ruth 3:10)! And when the redeemer is to take Ruth, Boaz describes it as being done, not in order to care for a widow, but “in order to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance” (Ruth 4:5)… “that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place” (Ruth 4:10).

But let us admit that the care of widows is of concern, because it certainly is. And let us admit that the patriarchal family line is of concern, because it, too, certainly is. But there is another concern that is fundamental to both of these: the new creation of life made in the image of God and of man (cf. Genesis 1:27; 5:3). The positive command to “be fruitful and multiply” had already been given to Onan’s forefathers more than once (Genesis 1:28; Genesis 9:1, 7); and to Onan’s very own grandfather God had said, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 35:11)—and He says this after Jacob had already fathered eleven sons and a daughter! Every sex act that is detailed for us in Scripture leading up to [and following] Onan was, as far as we know, not contracepted. And some unions were undertaken, we know, for the sole purpose of conception (cf. Genesis 16:2; Augustine goes into some detail concerning Rachel and Leah with Jacob in Against Faustus, Bk. 22). Even Lot’s incest (Genesis 19:30-36) and Judah’s prostituted sex (cf. Genesis 38:18) were open to life! And in keeping with this openness to life, these two men were left to live! :) Jacob rightly discerned that causing infertility was something reserved to God’s hands alone: “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” (Genesis 30:2) Onan stands out like a sore seed-spiller! :)

If Levirate marriages are designed—as with all marriages—with the primary purpose of raising up “godly offspring” (Malachi 2:15), then how can we say that God’s loathing of contraception is not squarely located in Genesis 38, when contraception itself is directly opposed to this very purpose of the sex act?

As I shared on James Swan’s blog, [see my “If” comment].

Having considered these thoughts, do you still think that Pope Pius and Augustine’s understanding of this text is “weak” and “wrongheaded”? I hope to have persuaded you, my brother! :) […]

James Swan said...

And he is using it as a weapon against the unity of Christ’s Church.

Let me know if Mr. Shea responds.

Constantine said...

Hey Pete,

It’s good to hear from you again. I hope Rebecca is well. And, if I recall, you had a youngster, too. Well, blessings to all of you.


I’m sorry that you feel our Augustine thread from last year was dropped. I honestly don’t recall. Maybe I figured that after we proved Augustine was a Protestant we were finished. 


What was Onan killed for? I don’t know. Noonan points out interestingly that the Early Church Fathers didn’t either:

“There was a general failure to invoke the story of Onan, which Jewish rabbis had already used against contraception. Origen expounded Genesis 38 only in an allegorical fashion…St. Ambrose commented on Genesis without alluding to the text. St. John Chrysostom himself spoke of the death of Onan, “who had shown himself to be evil,” without connecting his fault with contraception (Homilies on Genesis 62,1, PG 54:533). St. Ephraem (306-373), a Syrian contemporary of Epiphanius, said that Onan acted out of both hate for his brother and love for Thamar, and was killed for “his bitter trick,”, an explanation with some of the ambiguities of the original text. Only St. Epiphanius gave a plain interpretation of the text as a condemnation of contraception, and he did so only in the context of his anti-Gnostic polemic…Indisputable reference to contraception is not earlier than the eighth century.” Noonan, op. cit. P. 101, 155


So, Pete, there is no condemnation of contraception in the ECF’s, per se. Epiphanius’s condemnation was part of his work against the Gnostics.


Pete,wrote,

Every sex act that is detailed for us in Scripture leading up to [and following] Onan was, as far as we know, not contracepted.


“As far as we know” is a pretty wide berth! If I recall correctly, Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Are you accounting for all of those interactions? And because you can’t why would you exclude them? So you are presenting an argument from ignorance, it seems.


Pete, again:

Jacob rightly discerned that causing infertility was something reserved to God’s hands alone


You might be surprised, Pete to know that God actually prescribes abortion in the Bible. And he orders a priest to perform it. (Numbers 5:20-21). So I don’t think it’s fair to say “reserved for God’s hand alone.”


Pete, once more:

, then how can we say that God’s loathing of contraception is not squarely located in Genesis 38,…

If God “loathes” contraception so badly, then why did He prescribe it in Numbers? Why is there no explicit condemnation of it like there is for murder, or lying or stealing? And the fact that spontaneous abortions occur with far greater frequency than intentional ones is also a problem for your view.

Lastly, the Romanist position clearly violates the Bible as mentioned above but also in its proclamation that “life begins at conception.” Ecclesiastes 11:5 says that we cannot know what Rome says we can.

I think if you continue searching Pete, you will find some very interesting things about this issue and your denomination: 1.) the Roman church has been pro-choice for a far, far longer time than it has been engaged in its current “pro-life” fad; 2.) Rome makes claims (not surprisingly) that are not supportable from the biblical record or from history or from close examination of the facts.

It’s nice to hear from you again.

Peace.

Constantine said...

And he is using it as a weapon against the unity of Christ’s Church.

Pete, James has just showed us all that there is no "unity" with Rome!

And I've offered the work of a Catholic scholar which further undermines the idea of Catholic unity.

I pray God opens the eyes of your heart, friend.

Peace.

Vince said...

"It's more than enough for me that Rome's self-proclaimed interpreters don't agree with each other...The Roman Catholics here have to realize that when you folks interpret the Bible and disagree with each other as to what it means, you're helping me demonstrate that on a fundamental epistomological level many Roman Catholic arguments against Reformation principles are not valid."
Catholic Champ & Mark Shea are not the teaching office of the church. It is no different then the Associated Press publishing a survey of self identified Catholics who believe it is not wrong for men to have sex with men. Should practicing homosexuals also congratulate themselves because they believe they have defeated the claims of Truth, all by pointing out the errors/wrongdoing of laypersons? Jesus does not cease being the cause of salvation because a bunch of laypersons wrongly believe they can try their hardest with their own efforts, and expect it to be good enough, but according to your logic James, that in fact is the case, and an atheist can use such to declare "Roman Catholic Confusion on Salvation in the Bible". Actually there is no confusion. Pointing out disobedient individuals [especially ones who have no teaching authority on doctrine to begin with] does nothing to refute Christian Catholics, but as I said, Atheists love using the same fallacies arguing against Christians, all you have to do is point out all the Christians who behave & think nothing like Christ...does that change the fact that there is only one name under heaven given to men for the forgiveness of sins? Using that logic, somehow yes. O wait, Jesus the cause of my salvation? Where did I learn that? Darn Rome...she must be stopped!!! Let the posts keep coming...why stop here, I'm sure we can find 'Catholics' who reject the divinity of Christ, what a great way to refute Catholicism, will that make all you happy here? Finding Catholics who are disobedient to Catholic doctrines as repudiation of Catholic teaching? How does this make sense again?

James Swan said...

Hi Vince,

It appears you don't get it, and I'm too busy to explain it. My apologies.

Constantine said...

Vince opines,


Catholic Champ & Mark Shea are not the teaching office of the church.

Ok. But since they have staked out mutually exclusive and contradictory positions on Genesis 38, who are we to believe? Where is the Magisterial “infallible” interpretation to which we can refer? Oh…..there isn’t one? Hmmmm.

Vince, again,


Pointing out disobedient individuals [especially ones who have no teaching authority on doctrine to begin with] does nothing to refute Christian Catholics

Which one is disobedient, Vince? The “Champ” or Mark Shea? And, how do you know?


James is simply pointing out the abject confusion that permeates Rome’s doctrines and that confusion filters down to the streets as evidence by Mssr. “Champ” and Shea.

Peace.

Pete Holter said...

(1 of 4)

Greetings, Constantine!

Yeah, we’re doing great thanks. We have four boys, but we had just had a newborn when you and I were emailing last year, and he’s probably the one you’re thinking of. No matter their legal names, I call em, Roman Augustine, John Chrysostom, Lucas Aurelius, and Samuel Quodvultdeus. :)

Concerning Solomon. Why would the number of women make you think one way or another about the question of contraception? I could see wondering whether he actually had sexual relations with very many of them… But if Solomon did have sex, even with all of these women, then we would be led to believe from the sex acts that are narrated in Scripture, and from Solomon’s children, that his sexual encounters were not contracepted.

I don’t see abortion in Numbers 5, but I do see a curse of barrenness. Her womb and her “thigh” are affected (cf. Genesis 24:2, 9), but there’s no mention of a baby. The guilty woman is described as “undetected” and the woman who is not guilty is free to conceive, i.e., she has not already conceived. From these descriptions, we gather that the woman under examination is understood as not currently having a baby in her womb. The ceremony itself serves as a placebo, and the procedure followed by the priest operates on the principle of its being solely God’s prerogative to impose the curse. We see the same thing happening in the casting of lots to decide between Joseph and Matthias and in the use of the Urim and the Thummim, to discern God’s will. The seeming randomness of the result is understood as an expression of God’s unmediated will, although it falls within the context of ritualistic actions. “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Proverbs 16:33). Similarly here: the fact that the same actions produce two different results depending on the guilt of the woman demonstrates that the ceremony itself does not cause the sterility. It is the hand of providence, which brings to pass any number of similar evils in our fallen world, including the vast number of miscarriages that you mentioned.

Ecclesiastes is not expressing the completely unknowable, but either (1) the unknown in the days of the author, or (2) the incomprehensible. We see this same manner of speaking, for example, in Job 39: “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you observe the calving of the does? Can you number the months that they fulfill, and do you know the time when they give birth, when they crouch, bring forth their offspring, and are delivered of their young?” (vv. 1-3) And in Proverbs: “Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a virgin” (30:18-19). We understand many things about all of these phenomena. And even though we know that ensoulment occurs at conception, we don’t know how the soul and body actually come together. Just as we can say a lot of things about God’s creation, for “by faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Hebrews 11:3), and we know that “He upholds the universe by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3); and yet, in another sense, we can still say that we “do not know the work of God Who makes everything” (Ecclesiastes 11:5).

If you do not know why Onan was killed, then you cannot say that he was not killed for preventing conception during the sex act. :) We know what he did, and we know his motive for doing it. Given, again, that sinning against your own self is more grievous and insane than sinning against others, how can we avoid the conclusion that an even greater penalty would have been warranted for an even greater evil, had he done the same thing to avoid having his own children?

I’m at a disadvantage in this discussion in that I do not have Noonan’s book, and I don’t know his position in all its details, so please keep this in mind. :)

Pete Holter said...

(2 of 4)

You wrote that, “Dr. Noonan also shows that it was not until the 4th century, with Epiphanius, that the stand against contraception found its origin. And that Ephiphanius reacted not against contraception per se, but against its use as a ritual practice by the Gnostics. He notes further the condemnation of contraception by using ‘potions’. It was the concern over the magic in these concoctions, and their alleged tie with witchcraft, which gave rise to the ban. Not the contraceptive act, in and of itself.” You also wrote that “Epiphanius did NOT apply the story as a general prohibition, but as a condemnation of Gnostic rituals, only.”

Actually, Epiphanius’ concern falls directly upon contracepted sex acts, per se, irrespective of these other concerns. He opens his argument by pointing out that “though they copulate they forbid procreation. Their eager pursuit of seduction is for enjoyment, not procreation, since the devil mocks people like these, and makes fun of the creature fashioned by God. They come to climax but absorb the seeds in their dirt—not by implanting them for procreation, but by eating the dirt themselves.” No matter what they did do with the seed, it’s what they didn’t do with the seed that is the root of the disorder: they did not implant the seed “for procreation.” And he says that Onan “did not finish the act by planting his seed for the God-given purpose of procreation and did himself harm instead…” I am not sure how this could be interpreted in any other way than to understand Onan as providing a specific example of the general sin of contraception, which is directly opposed to “the God-given purpose of procreation.” For marriage is only “respectable,” he says, “if one employs God’s good creatures for procreation, not shame, and does not misuse God’s appointed method of conjugal intercourse” (Panarion). When Epiphanius says, “though they copulate they forbid procreation,” it is equally employable against anyone, in any context, who contracepts the sex act.

Jerome summarizes Jovinian’s position by saying that Jovinian “censures Onan, slain by the Lord, because he, grudging to raise up seed to his brother, marred the marriage rite” (Against Jovinian, Bk. 1, 5). And, as I’m sure you’ve seen before, Jerome agreed with Jovinian on this point and explained it as bearing directly upon contracepted sex: “But I wonder why he set… before us … Onan who was slain because he grudged his brother’s seed. Does he imagine that we approve of any sexual intercourse except for the procreation of children?” (Against Jovinian, Bk. 1, 20) This again is a blanket condemnation of contracepted sex acts, which are for the purpose of procreation.

Sulpitius Severus said that, “On his death, Onan took his brother’s wife; and he is related to have been destroyed by God,” and he assigns the reason: “because he spilled his seed upon the earth” (Sacred History, Bk. 1, Ch. 11).

In Homily 62, 1 on Genesis, John Chrysostom simply reiterates what the text of Genesis 38:10 says, that what Onan did was evil. He didn’t explain the “evil” of Onan at that particular point, but he condemned the separation of procreation from the sex act elsewhere, so it would not be difficult for us to make this connection for him. In other words, if you had the opportunity to ask Chrysostom to go into detail about what was wrong with what Onan did, do you think that he will not at some point make this connection explicit for you? I think that we can safely answer this question. He writes…

“[T]hat which is sweet, and universally desirable, the having children, [the covetous] esteem grievous and unwelcome: many at least with this view have even paid money to be childless, and have maimed their nature, not only by slaying their children after birth, but by not suffering them even to be born at all” (Homily 28 on Matthew).

Pete Holter said...

(3 of 4)

Continuing with Chrysostom…

“For as [Paul] does not forbid drinking, but drinking to excess, not marrying, but doing wantonness; so too he does not forbid making provision for the flesh either, but doing so with a view ‘to fulfil the lusts thereof,’ as, for instance, by going beyond necessaries. For that he does bid make provision for it, hear from what he says to Timothy, ‘Use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake, and thine often infirmities.’ So here too he is for taking care of it, but for health, and not wantonness. For this would cease to be making provision for it, when you were lighting up the flame, when you were making the furnace powerful…

“…Why sow where the ground makes it its care to destroy the fruit? where there are many efforts at abortion? where there is murder before the birth? for even the harlot thou dost not let continue a mere harlot, but makest her a murderess also. You see how drunkenness leads to whoredom, whoredom to adultery, adultery to murder; or rather to a something even worse than murder. For I have no name to give it, since it does not take off the thing born, but prevent its being born. Why then dost thou abuse the gift of God, and fight with His laws, and follow after what is a curse as if a blessing, and make the chamber of procreation a chamber for murder, and arm the woman that was given for childbearing unto slaughter? For with a view to drawing more money by being agreeable and an object of longing to her lovers, even this she is not backward to do, so heaping upon thy head a great pile of fire. For even if the daring deed be hers, yet the causing of it is thine. Hence too come idolatries, since many, with a view to become acceptable, devise incantations, and libations, and love-potions, and countless other plans. Yet still after such great unseemliness, after slaughters, after idolatries, the thing seems to many to belong to things indifferent, aye, and to many that have wives too. Whence the mingle of mischief is the greater. For sorceries are applied not to the womb that is prostituted, but to the injured wife” (Homily 24 on Romans).

Bolstering the point that I made above—about the greater sin being the sin that is perpetrated against oneself—is Chrysostom’s observation: if we do with our wives what we do with prostitutes—to avoid our having children— then the sin is even more egregious. Furthermore, Chrysostom says that “[a]s then we gain an ill name for laughter also, when we use it out of season; so too do we for tears, by having recourse to them unseasonably. For the virtue of each thing then discovers itself when it is brought to its own fitting work, but when to one that is alien, it does no longer so. For instance, wine is given for cheerfulness, not drunkenness, bread for nourishment, [and] sexual intercourse for the procreation of children” (Homily 12 on Colossians). He also says that the Christian “marries a wife for chastity, and procreation of children” (Homily 12 on Colossians). And that if a man “find his bride chaste, and know that body alone, then will both his desire be vehement, and his fear of God the greater, and the marriage truly honorable, receiving bodies pure and undefiled; and the offspring will be full-charged with blessing, and the bride and bridegroom will comply with one another, for both being inexperienced in the manners of others, they will submit to one another.” For “a woman of free estate [is] espoused to her husband to be his partner in life, and for the procreation of children, not for the purposes of indecency and laughter; that she might keep the house, and instruct him also to be grave, not that she might supply to him the fuel of fornication” (Homily 5 on First Thessalonians).

Pete Holter said...

(4 of 4)

Continuing again with Chrysostom…

“[I]t is not for her wealth that we ought to seek a wife: it is that we may receive a partner of our life, for the appointed order of the procreation of children” (Homily 49 on the Acts of the Apostles). “Natural desire was bestowed with a view to marriage; it was given with a view to the procreation of children” (Homily 2 on Ephesians). “Desire [is useful] when it has reference to the procreation of children” (Homily 2 on Hebrews). “Desire [was implanted in our nature for a necessary end:] for the procreation of children” (Homily 23 on Second Corinthians).

And, lastly, “For truly, the very nature of the punishment [of Sodom] was a pattern of the nature of the sin [of Sodom]! Even as they devised a barren intercourse, not having for its end the procreation of children, so did God bring on them such a punishment, as made the womb of the land ever barren, and destitute of all fruits!” (Homily 19 on the Statues) Notice that John Chrysostom locates the evil of homosexual intercourse in the barrenness of the act. Would he not do the same in the case of Onan? :) This reminds me of a modern Catholic apologetic: we demonstrate how the condemnation of contraception brings a heightened sense of unity to the Scriptures in its various prohibitions of various sexual perversions.

As with Chrysostom, similarly with Ambrose. If he were asked to thoroughly expound upon the evil of Onan, could it be thought that he would not excoriate the contraceptive nature of his act? For he wrote that Elizabeth was ashamed, having been deprived of offspring, “which is the sole cause of marriage” (Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, Bk. 1 Ch. 45).

I too could say with Ephraim that Onan was killed for his “bitter trick,” understanding that the “trick” involved thwarting God’s purpose for and design of our bodies and marriage.

At any rate, I don’t think that it serves to bring forward these witnesses from the Fathers in an effort to cast doubt on the unity of our position. They all reject contracepted intercourse. We can’t all say everything every time we speak, and the silences of the Fathers are much more readily conformable to the defense of Catholic truth.

With love in Christ,
Pete

kalbertini said...

Pope Paul VI abandoned the reference to Onan before issuing Humanae Vitae because modern scholarship does not support he got killed for contraception. Onan is never mentioned on any papal document on contraception after that. Usury(the charging of interest on a loan) was much more condemned by the early fathers & Church Councils before it was abandoned because the people(who are the church) realized there was nothing wrong,now the Vatican bank charges usury
Usury Condemned--Neh 5:10 PS 15:5
EZ 18:3 18:17 22:12
Council of Arles 1314
Nicae 325
Carthage 345
Lateran 1179
2nd Council lyons
Vienne 1311---This council claimed heresy for those who practiced usury
Pope urban VIII mentions Mat 5:42 & Luke 6:35 against those who practice usury going against scripture & the church
In the late 1800s the holy office decided "those who lend money at moderate rates are not to be disturbed" This is the result of the sense of the faithful or the people rejecting a teaching & thus it needs to be revised