Monday, July 28, 2008

Humanae Vitae -- Human Sexuality, Contraception, and the Early Church

Some people mistakenly think that the teachings of Humanae Vitae were something that Pope Paul more or less arbitrarily imposed upon an unwanting public. Given the times in which it was published, in the midst of the sexual revolution, after the invention of "the Pill" (which, incidently, occasionally acts as an abortifacient), they mistakenly think that Humanae Vitae was essentially the first time that the Church had ventured to speak on the issue of contraception. In fact, both contraception and abortion were well known in antiquity and the early Church, and they were both condemned by the early Church and have been condemned by the Church throughout the ages as being contrary to the moral laws. As a result, Pope Paul could not have written any way other than the way he did. The teaching of Humanae Vitae is not his, it is the teaching of the Holy Church. The office of the pope is not to pronounce one's opinions, it is to promote and defend the truths of the Catholic faith.

Contraceptive References in the Bible
by Father William Saunders
Arlington Catholic Herald
August 7, 2003

. . . History further illuminates the Church's position on this subject. Anthropological studies show that means of contraception existed in antiquity. Medical papyri described various contraceptive methods used in China in the year 2700 BC and in Egypt in the year 1850 B.C. Soranos (A.D. 98-139), a Greek physician from Ephesus, described seventeen medically approved methods of contraception. Also at this time, abortion and infanticide were not uncommon practices in the Roman Empire.

The early Christian community upheld the sanctity of marriage, marital love, and human life. In the New Testament, the word pharmakeia appears, which some scholars link to the birth control issue. Pharmakeia denotes the mixing of potions for secretive purposes, and from Soranos and others, evidence exists of artificial birth control potions. Interestingly, pharmakeia is oftentimes translated as "sorcery" in English. In the three passages in which pharmakeia appears, other sexual sins are also condemned: lewd conduct, impurity, licentiousness, orgies, "and the like." (Confer Galatians 5:19-21.) This evidence highlights that the early Church condemned anything which violated the integrity of marital love.

Further evidence is found in the Didache, also called the Teachings of the Twelve Apostles, written about the year A.D. 80. This book was the Church's first manual of morals, liturgical norms, and doctrine. In the first section, two ways are proposed-- the way of life and the way of death. In following the way of life, the Didache exhorts, "You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not seduce boys. You shall not commit fornication. You shall not steal. You shall not practice magic. You shall not use potions. You shall not procure abortion, nor destroy a new-born child. You shall not covet your neighbor's goods...." Again scholars link such phrases as "practice magic" and "use potions" with contraceptives.

In all, the Catholic Church as well as other Christian denominations condemned the use of contraceptive means until the twentieth century. . . .

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