The Witness of the Body: Inclining Against ContraceptionJune 23, 2012 No Comments
June 23, 2012 /MariaNews.com
By Catholic Online
CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) – “Theology of the Body” is the name given to Pope John Paul II’s integrated vision of the human person, a person composed of spiritual soul and material body, and incomplete without both. For John Paul II–and indeed for all Christians who refuse to succumb to what Jacques Maritain called the Cartesian “sin of angelism,” the error of seeing a human person as a “ghost in a machine”–the human body is as equal a partner to the human person as is the spiritual soul. Our soma, our body, has a “theology,” a word to tell us about God, just as much as does our psyche, our soul.
There is something about our end (in Greek, our telos), our design and God’s purpose, that is to be learned from our body, from its acts, even from what the theologian Steven A. Long calls the “close-in teleogies” of human acts. There are “close-in theologies” that are found in the “close-in teleogies” of the human body, especially in such inter-personal matters as the conjugal act or the marital act.
To be sure, pure bodily activity is to be understood within the context of the whole human person, and not separated from it. Yet it is also sure that the body talks to us. We have to have an internal ear to hear what our body is saying. The loud din of our culture, our presuppositions, our ignorance, our lusts can often deafen us to the witness of the body. There are many sources of static.
Sometimes even some moral theologians try to plug their ears with respect to the music found in the “close-in teleologies” and “close-in theologies” by crying biologism, biologism, biologism!
But it is a fact that the natural moral law often speaks to us in the language of the body, in the meaning of its acts, and in what moral theologians have called our inclinations. Unquestionably, our inclinations can frequently go awry, especially after the disorder caused our nature from Adam’s Fall. So not all felt inclinations can be assumed to be legitimate.
Importantly, in understanding these inclinations, it is also wrong to think of the inclinations as bodily urges. Far from being disordered primitive urges, the inclinations are in fact expressions of a kind of reason, an Ur-reason, a fundamental, non-conceptual, non-discursive reason. This is why I like to think of these inclinations as a sort of intellectual feltness. The natural law is (contrary to Kant and the natural law theorists of the Enlightenment) not based upon conceptual or discursive reason alone, but is fundamentally built upon these inclinations.
The notion of the natural law as something built upon these fundamental inclinations fits in better with the Biblical notion of the natural law as a law of reason written not on one’s brain, but in one’s heart. (Rom. 2:15) The Biblical notion of the heart refers or signifies the very center, the most intimate core, of the human person. The heart is something much more basic than one’s brain. And it is here–in the central core of the human being, the heart–where the intellectual feltness, theinclinations of the natural moral law, are found.
Now I say all this as an introduction because it helps explain a life-changing experience I had about 28 years ago. And here to understand the context, I need to give a few biographical details.
Though raised Catholic, I had left the Church–indeed Christianity altogether–by the time I entered college. I remember my inchoate rebellion at age 13, but by the time I reached 17, this attitude had blossomed into full-scale rejection of God and of His Church.
As I approached college graduation, I happened to attend a Bill Gothard seminar with the young woman who would eventually become my wife, and experienced a conversion. I realized how much I had sinned or strayed from childhood innocence, how I needed forgiveness, and I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior.
To make a long story short, after my conversion I read the Scriptures, but as I bounced from Baptist Church to Charismatic Church, I soon became aware that the Scriptures were not as perspicuous-that is, as plain to the understanding–as the Protestants claimed them to be.
So I decided the best evidence of the meanings of the Scriptures would be the so-called Apostolic Fathers, those persons who were the immediate successors to the Apostles. I was soon convinced, upon reading St. Ignatius of Antioch, that a Scriptural Church had to have at least three requisites: (1) it had to be Liturgical, (2) it had to be Eucharistic, and (3) it had to be Episcopal, which is to say governed by bishops.
So I looked for such a church. The Episcopal Church was convenient, had (or at least appeared to have) these three signs, and so my wife and I joined that Church. Eventually, we were married before a Methodist minister and an Episcopalian priest.
The point is that for my entire adult religious life up until the time that I was married I was Protestant. I had not been introduced to the Church’s teaching on marriage, the conjugal life, or contraception. I had no understanding of it. I certainly did not give it any assent at the time.
Following the Protestant mores, my wife and I went on our honeymoon loaded with prophylactics, without the least scruple of any sort. But by the second day of the honeymoon, it was apparent to both my wife and me that there was something terribly wrong here. There was an awareness, a sort of gnawing reality, a sort of existential hunch that whatever marriage was, whatever the conjugal act was, it was inconsistent with the use of prophylactics. Something important, crucial was being held back through the contraceptive sex, and the language of our bodies was wrapped up in a lie because of it. Each act of sex was an act of hypocrisy.
If asked at the time, I could not have explained it. In fact, I was surprised by this experience. As I’ve looked back at this experience, I believe that what I encountered was the witness of my body, the law of the heart, an inclination orintellectual feltness which is at the heart of the natural law, even a voice of God. Without the aid of any Church doctrine, by just listening to the “close-in teleology” of the conjugal act, I had encountered the truth that to engage in contraceptive sex would be to live a lie. I had an inclination I could not have then put into words that to separate the unitive and the procreative aspects of the conjugal act was wrong, and not only wrong but horribly wrong. For me it was clearly something despicable, something for which I would have to answer to God were I to continue the practice.
From that point, my wife and I threw the contraceptive technology away, and never looked back.
Over the next several months after this experience, I devoted some time to exploring the traditional Christian teaching on contraception. Much to my surprise, I learned that the Protestant Churches were at one time entirely in unison in their condemnation of artificial contraception. In fact, this was entirely consistent with the constant teaching of the Church virtually from its beginning. (See, e.g., Gal. 5:19-20 and the 1st or 2nd century Didache)
But in a whole collapse of moral fortitude, the Protestant Churches had one-by-one capitulated, sort of like dominoes, beginning with the Anglican Church at the Seventh Lambeth Conference in 1930. I learned that the so-called Comstock laws against contraception on the books of the several States and declared unconstitutional by the U. S. Supreme Court inGriswold v. Connecticut were named after the Protestant minister Anthony Comstock and were passed by legislatures composed of largely Protestant legislators. But all this Protestant consensus had clearly unraveled by the 1960s.
It may be that the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception is foolishness to the secularist liberals, and a stumbling block to our Protestant brothers and Catholic dissenters. But the witness of my body tells me they are all wrong, and the Catholic Church is right.
The natural law has been called the “first grace,” and my sensitivity to the inclination that I had offended more than 28 years ago was a “first grace” to me. I am deeply thankful to God for it.
Eventually, it lead me back to the Catholic Church. I realized that what was written by the anonymous author of theDidache in the late 1st or early 2nd century, what Pope Pius XI had written in his encyclical Casti conubii in 1930, what Pope Paul VI had written in his encyclical Humanae vitae in 1968, what the Roman Catholic Church teaches today and will teach forever about artificial contraception is not a law imposed from the outside.
No, it is nothing but a confirmation of the truth which is already within us, which we will hear, if we but listen to the witness of our body. The Church’s teaching on artificial contraception is not true because it is stated in Humanae vitae. The Church’s teaching against artificial contraception is stated in Humane vitae because it is true.
Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married with three children. He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum. You can contact Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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