Anglican Pastoral Theology and Contraceptives

INTRODUCTION

In 1930, the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops issued a controversial resolution on the role of artificial contraceptives within the confines of marital sex. For the first time, a mainstream Christian tradition made allowance for a limited use of contraceptives, what they described as the “moral obligations” and constraints of the married couple as determined by “Christian principles.”[1] Over the last century, the resolution has come to typify the stereotypical chasm between Anglicans (and Protestants more generally) and Roman Catholics on matters of practice and doctrine on the issue of contraceptives. There are very real doctrinal differences between the two traditions; nonetheless, when it comes to contraception, the two positions may be closer than we initially assume. While there is no binding statement within the Anglican tradition that positively affirms, as the Roman Catholic doctrine does, that “each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life,”[2] the most natural conclusion of the various Anglican sources of authority regarding the issue is far more nuanced and less permissive than either its critics or proponents admit. The implications of this Anglican position, when properly understood as an exception which proves a general rule, provide a useful and balanced pastoral approach that is widely underutilized when considering the moral questions of family planning.

SURVEY

Liturgy and Ecclesiology

One of the definitive sources of Anglican doctrine is The Book of Common Prayer: that which can be prayed in common, can be believed in common (i.e. lex orandi, lex credendi). As Matthew S.C. Olver describes it, the Prayer Book is “one of the most tangible expressions of tradition for Anglicans.”[3] Therefore, an Anglican methodology may first begin by surveying the Prayer Book’s articulation of the issue. However, no Prayer Book ever specifically addresses contraceptives, yet they do have a great deal to say about marriage which traditionally has been understood as the appropriate context for sexual activity. Because the Church of England’s 1662 Book of Common Prayer was at one time or another held in common by the many provinces of the Anglican Communion and remains the official English Prayer Book, for this essay it will serve as a normative liturgical reference point. The 1662 Prayer Book speaks of marriage as an “honorable estate instituted by God…signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church.” [4] Three purposes are given for the institution of marriage: “First, it was ordained for the procreation of children…Secondly, it was ordained for a remedy against sin…Thirdly, it was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other.”[5] Therefore, the sacramental nature evoked by the mystical union and the three purposes of marriage is the initial framework by which marital sex ought to be understood within Anglicanism.[6]

Before we consider the contentious Lambeth resolutions, we must first consider the manner in which the Anglican Communion speaks into moral issues. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion has no canonically-binding teaching on matters of ethics. In fact, “the judgments, reports, and resolutions of [the Lambeth Conference of bishops, the Primates’ Meeting, and the Anglican Consultative Council], as well as the actions and statements of the Archbishop of Canterbury, carry no canonical or juridical status across the communion.”[7] While they carry no canonical status, they do carry a moral weight expressing to some extent the mind of the Communion. This “circumscribed [applicability] means that there will be many issues about which there will be clear and authoritative [Roman] Catholic teaching without corresponding definitive teaching in the [Anglican Communion].”[8] As such, when comparing an Anglican method of approaching this question to the definitive Roman Catholic teaching, this lack of one-to-one correspondence must not be overlooked.

The Lambeth Conference Resolutions

Having considered the Anglican authoritative landscape, we now turn to the statements of the Lambeth Conferences of Bishops and can understand them within their context of authority. There are four key Lambeth resolutions that consider the use of contraceptives from an Anglican perspective. The first discussion of the issue occurred in 1920, and the conference resolved: “We utter an emphatic warning against the use of unnatural means for the avoidance of conception.”[9] This emphatic warning casts the shadow under which the infamous resolution 15 of Lambeth 1930 was drafted which states:

Where there is clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, the method must be decided on Christian principles. The primary and obvious method is complete abstinence from intercourse (as far as may be necessary) in a life of discipline and self-control lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless in those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles. The Conference records its strong condemnation of the use of any methods of conception control from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience.[10]

This is the resolution that supposedly opened the floodgates of permissive Protestant allowance for contraceptive usage within marriage. However, its intention is much more limited. The resolution allows for a very narrow consideration of other methods where the couple, in subjection to God and Christian principles, may be allowed to limit their family using available means only if there is a moral reason not to resort to the customary abstinence. Moreover, the conference further limits its own definition by maintaining in resolution 17 that while “economic conditions are a serious factor in the situation…contraception control” cannot be utilized as a means of resolving or mitigating those situations.[11] From the Roman Catholic perspective, though, this limited allowance was enough to totally upend the entire order of Christian marriage. Pope Pius XI responded within the year in an encyclical defending the entire state of Christian Matrimony. He refers to those who by “openly departing from the uninterrupted Christian tradition…have judged it possible solemnly to declare another doctrine,” then he reiterates the traditional position: “any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.”[12] Not only does the Pope respond in a manner that presumes a binding authoritative character to the Lambeth resolution, but he does so by further reiterating the Roman position which allows no morally sound reason for contravening the natural order.

The 1930 Lambeth resolutions remain the most definitive and articulate statements on the topic, but other resolutions addressed the question at the 1958 Lambeth Conference stating that “the responsibility for deciding upon the number and frequency of children has been laid by God upon the consciences of parents everywhere; that this planning, in such ways as are mutually acceptable to husband and wife in Christian conscience, is a right and important factor in Christian family life and should be the result of positive choice before God.”[13] This positive choice is framed, not from the natural perspective of every sexual act being ordered toward procreation, but rather from a holistic theological perspective in which “all problems of sex relations, the procreation of children, and the organization of the family life must be related, consciously and directly, to the creative, redemptive, and sanctifying power of God.”[14] The Anglican Bishops further distinguished their approach from that of the Roman Catholic Church as set forth in the 1968 papal encyclical Humane Vitae in resolution 22 of the Lambeth conference of the same year: “The Conference finds itself unable to agree with the Pope’s conclusion that all methods of conception control other than abstinence from sexual intercourse or its confinement to periods of infecundity are contrary to the ‘order established by God.’” For most interpreters, the 1968 Lambeth Conference repudiation of Humanae Vitae is the deciding factor that indicates the Anglican stance on the matter: full and open permissive use of contraceptives within the confines of Christian marriage. Concerning this assessment, John Morgan comments: “Over a period of 40 years the Anglican teaching on contraception had thus moved from the stage of seeming prohibition, as expressed at the Conference of 1920, to the ‘grudging permission’ of the 1930 Lambeth Conference, and, finally, to the positive endorsement of the 1958 Lambeth Conference.”[15] Moreover, the view that contraceptives are fully and unreservedly allowable within Anglicanism made allowance for the provocative thought-experiment by the later Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams that since the church accepted the “legitimacy of contraception,” unless it resorted to biblical fundamentalism or problematic psychological structures, the church could not absolutely condemn “same-sex relations of intimacy.”[16] [17]

PASTORAL IMPLICATIONS

Writing immediately in the wake of the 1930 Lambeth Conference, the Bishop of Oxford, Charles Gore, noted that while the overall tone of the resolutions was opposed to contraceptives, the ultimate result would be that God-fearing and Church-respecting Christians would presume that “the Anglican Communion has ‘removed the taboo’ on contraceptive methods, and no doubt their scruples will in many cases be silenced and the easier course taken.”[18] This has indeed been the case, and is the result of what T.S. Eliot, in commenting on the Lambeth resolution, noted: “In short, the whole resolution shows the admirable English devotion to commonsense, but also the deplorable Anglican habit of standing things on their heads in the name of commonsense.”[19] In Resolution 15 of Lambeth 1930 and the subsequent Lambeth conferences, the traditional Christian prohibition of contraceptives had been stood on its head. However, I contend that the mainstream assessment taken by most Anglican theologians (represented by Morgan and Williams) is not only outside the intention and bounds of the Lambeth resolutions, but completely misses the winsome pastoral implications offered by the nuanced statements of the Lambeth conferences when read within the light of the Prayer Book tradition.

Resolution 15 couches its openness to contraception within the framework of “moral obligation” and “Christian principles.” In doing so, the conference – especially when read in light of its resolutions of 1958 – places the onus of responsibility on the Christian couple’s conscience and moral reasoning. The individual Christian couple, therefore, is called to a high degree of moral maturity and must participate in what Oliver O’Donovan terms “Christian Moral Reasoning,” which requires the Christian to engage in both reflection and deliberation in order to make a recognizably Christian moral decision. Ultimately for O’Donovan, a decision can only be deemed “moral” if it “answers to the reality that confronts us, and supremely to the unconditioned reality of God’s command.”[20] This context of dual realities is what makes O’Donovan’s perspective so useful in navigating the issues of contraceptives. When it comes to the question of family planning, “the reality that confronts us” is the question of when and if it is appropriate for a couple to limit the size of a family. The “unconditioned reality of God’s command” can be understood within Anglicanism as the positive statement within the Prayer Book that God intended marriage for the procreation of children, which also must be understood alongside the sacramental nature of marriage. In order to fully realize this sacramental sign-act, the marital relationship must not be ordered in such a way as to be inherently opposed to the cultivation of life as it points to the mystical union between Christ and the Church that results in the regenerative life of God’s Kingdom. The inability to take into account these dual realities is what Eliot critiqued in the Roman position on contraceptives:

To put it frankly, but I hope not offensively, the Roman view in general seems to me to be that a principle must be affirmed without exception; and that thereafter exceptions can be dealt with, without modifying the principle. The view natural to the English mind, I believe, is rather that a principle must be framed in such a way as to include all allowable exceptions. It follows inevitably that the Roman Church must profess to be fixed, while the Anglican Church must profess to take account of changed conditions.[21]

The fixed Roman position, as Eliot alludes to, must contend with exceptions, but it is woefully unable to do so due to the stark objective nature in which any sexual act not open to the procreative end results in a mortal sin. Whereas, “The admission of inconsistencies, sometimes ridiculed as indifference to logic and coherence, of which the English mind is often accused, may be largely the admission of inconsistencies inherent in life itself, and of the impossibility of overcoming them by the imposition of a uniformity greater than life will bear.”[22] For instance, within the Anglican methodology, the positive affirmation that marriage ought to be ordered toward the procreation of children while allowing each and every sexual act to not always be open to procreation seems to be inconsistent, yet this seeming inconsistency is easily accommodated by the Anglican method. Whereas, the inconsistency inherent in the Roman Catholic position of insisting that sexual relations during periods of infecundity and after menopause remain “open” to the procreation of children does not seem to fit the fixed position, yet must be held as not being an exception to the established doctrine.

However, the necessity of exceptions within moral frameworks is not a demonstration of a fault in the foundation of the moral precept, but rather a testament to its validity. O’Donovan notes that when considering moral rules, “the exception proves the rule, since the question whether this or that exception is appropriate cannot be put unless there is a rule to make an exception to… A moral rule is interestingly and helpfully general. It marks the terms of the moral discussion, and so assists us to chart a course through unfamiliar circumstances.”[23] Therefore, the acknowledgment within the Lambeth resolutions that exceptions may exist under exceptional circumstances is not an Anglican abdication of the overarching principle, but rather a confirmation of the principle itself that contraceptives stand counter to the ultimate aim of Christian marriage. Indeed, this is the interpretive stance adopted by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) statement of 1992, Life in Christ, which acknowledges that both the Anglican and Roman Catholic traditions hold in common “that procreation is one of the divinely intended ‘goods’ of the institution of marriage. A deliberate decision, therefore, without justifiable reason, to exclude procreation from a marriage is a rejection of this good and a contradiction of the nature of marriage itself.”[24] From an Anglican perspective, this is a clear derivation of the principles of not only preceding Lambeth conferences, but also a clear reading of the Prayer Book marriage service which establishes the Anglican understanding of the “goods” of marriage. Furthermore, the Commission held, in common with resolutions 13, 14, and 17 of Lambeth 1930, its opposition to “what has been called a ‘contraceptive mentality,’ that is, a selfish preference for immediate satisfaction over the more demanding good of having and raising a family.”[25] This opposition to the contraceptive mentality clearly demonstrates the rule of marriage being ordered to procreation, a rule to which the permissibility of exceptions is not a slippery-slope, but is rather a clear example of the rule’s overarching authority.

Although the Commission presupposed a greater level of continuity between Anglicans and Roman Catholics on the issue than had previously been assumed, the greatest pastoral strength to the Anglican position is best understood in the light of John Henry Newman’s articulation of a Roman Catholic perspective on the role of conscience in the Christian life. Newman is, ironically, responding to the Anglican critique that Roman Catholicism has no room for the conscience due to the exacting nature of the Pope and magisterium. In quoting Cardinal Gousset, Newman maintained that “all that man is, is subject to the domain of the law of God; and this law is the rule of our conduct by means of our conscience. Hence it is never lawful to go against our conscience.”[26] In a foreshadowing of O’Donovan, Newman maintains that even in regards to the Roman precept of always obeying the Pope, “exceptions there must be in all concrete matters…If I am obliged to bring religion into after-dinner toasts….I shall drink – to the Pope, if you please, – still, to Conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards.”[27] Newman’s careful consideration of conscience is in tension with the position of the Roman Catholic Church concerning the use of contraceptives within marriage. Classifying the use of contraceptives to be a mortal sin allows no room for the faithful in cases of moral obligation to appeal to their conscience. Their consciences have been bound by the church to a rule which affords no exceptions. The pastoral implication of this policy, then, is that the Roman Catholic faithful are morally bound without any consideration of their conscience.

AN ANGLICAN THEOLOGY OF CONTRACEPTIVES

Throughout this essay I have alluded to an Anglican theology of contraceptives, but have yet to articulate it. T.S. Eliot contended that “the Conference was not only right and courageous to express a view on the subject of procreation radically different from that of Rome; but that the attitude adopted is more important than this particular question, important as it may be.”[28] The attitude which was adopted is one in which Christian moral principles are utilized in pursuit of the normative precept and are bound by conscience. In the case of contraceptives, the normative precept is both that one of the purposes of marriage is “procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name,”[29] and that this ought to be done in the confines of a sacramental union which signifies the mystical union of Christ and the Church. Theologically, the union between Christ and his Church is one in which the union on the part of Christ is always fully giving, fully loving, and never withheld. In procreative language: Christ’s love toward the church could never be willingly sterilized or contracepted. The Church, though, like faithless Israel, is bound to Christ in a mystical union regardless of her faithfulness or not; one might say, regardless of her sterilized actions to attempt a union with Christ that does not intend to bring forth new-life. However, the faithlessness of the Bride does not negate the intention and ultimate purpose of the union between Christ and his Church, which is to be life-giving, to be the source and fountain of new-life. These are the theological foundations that can be found in Scripture (for example Genesis 1-3 and Ephesians 5)[30] and articulated by the Prayer Book. Upon these theological presuppositions, the Christian couple is called by the Lambeth Conference to weigh their moral obligations. Within the Anglican tradition, the Christian couple is not bound to an exceptionless precept; nor, conversely, is it given free rein to adopt a “contraceptive mentality.”[31] Rather, the Christian couple is called to a standard of Christian marriage in which they are ultimately bound by their conscience to navigate their moral obligations within the constraints of Christian principles as elucidated by the Scriptures, the Prayer Book, and the wider Christian tradition. Anglicanism has placed a high reliance upon the individual Christian’s conscience[32] with the intention to pastorally encourage the practice of Christian moral reasoning within the holy and honorable estate of Christian Matrimony.

This consideration of the issue is based upon the English Prayer Book tradition; however, it is worth adding the American perspective – as is my own – with an emphasis on the will of God and procreation. Within Roman Catholicism, the only licit manner of limiting procreation is through abstinence during periods of fecundity, commonly known as Natural Family Planning (NFP). NFP is not only the Roman Catholic “solution” to the problem, but is also the preferred Anglican method according to Lambeth 1930.[33] However, this implied tendency toward natural means and thereby naturally discerned rationality can often (albeit unintentionally) result in an activity that is purely natural, that is to say, devoid of spiritual and divine considerations.

Beginning in 1979, the American Prayer Book tradition introduced the phraseology of divine will into the marriage rites, an addition which remains in the 2019 Book of Common Prayer “Bestow upon them, if it be your will, the gift and heritage of children.”[34] The American tradition has returned this consideration of family planning to its proper end. The determination of when and how to have children within Christian marriage is not merely a natural consideration to be made by two entities involved in some sort of business contract in which utils are weighed in a balance, but rather is an act of divine discernment; it is a microcosm of the entire Christian life. To live as a Christian implies a constant subjection of one’s will toward the will and purposes of God. This subjection results in the reordering of the human heart and intentions into conformity with the divine purpose. As the Psalmist declares, “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). Therefore, it may be proper to say that within the American Prayer Book tradition, the Christian couple is called to “God Family Planning” (GFP). This type of family planning certainly takes into account natural considerations, yet – like all Christian discernment – is a process that involves all the Christian’s moral and theological faculties; it is a spiritual act which recognizes the purposes and ends of a greater entity and plan than merely that of the couple or their relationship. GFP, additionally, is properly Anglican in that it discerns God’s will not merely or solely through conciliar pronouncements, but through a subservience to a methodology that begins with Scripture, is interpreted through the councils and traditions of the Church, and then is elucidated through the Prayer Book tradition.

CONCLUSION

According to ARCIC II’s Life in Christ, both traditions agree “that God calls married couples to ‘responsible parenthood.’ This refers to a range of moral concerns, which begins with the decision to accept parenthood and goes on to include the nurture, education, support and guidance of children.”[35] These moral concerns are far-reaching and the question of contraceptives is only one among many; however, the two traditions offer vastly different methodologies regarding how the Christian couple ought to approach the specific moral question of contraceptives within their marriage. Within Roman Catholicism, the moral precept is clearly established which allows for no usage whatsoever of artificial contraceptives thereby limiting the extent to which the Christian couple can engage the topic from the perspective of moral discernment. The Anglican tradition articulates similarly clear expectations of the Christian couple toward the end of procreation within their marriage while allowing – as Roman Catholics do – that the responsibility to plan their own family is a matter of an individual couple’s conscience. The conscience of the Anglican couple, though, is not unbounded; rather, it is given a breadth of freedom to exercise moral discernment in pursuit of the divinely ordered ends of marriage and the moral obligations of “responsible parenthood.” Pastorally, there is a beauty to the Anglican position (which I have termed: “God Family Planning”) that when properly understood in light of the Christian principles articulated within the Prayer Book deals winsomely with the dual realities of the Christian’s life in the world, but not of the world.

Notes:

  1. Lambeth Conference 1930 Report, Resolution 15.
  2. Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, July 25. 1968, Paragraph 11.
  3. Matthew S.C. Olver, “Contraception’s Authority: An Anglican’s Liturgical and Synodical Thought Experiment in Light of ARCUSA’s ‘Ecclesiology and Moral Discernment,’” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 50, 3 (2015): 432.
  4. Church of England, Book of Common Prayer 1662, “The Form of Solemnization of Matrimony,” (Oxford University Press), 362.
  5. Church of England, Book of Common Prayer 1662, “The Form of Solemnization of Matrimony,” 362.
  6. The prayer book tradition does not call marriage a sacrament, though there is a long tradition of doing so, including in resolution 13 of the 1930 Lambeth Conference. Moreover, the usage of “signifying” and “mystical” are highly evocative of sacramental import.
  7. Olver, “Contraception’s Authority: An Anglican’s Liturgical and Synodical Thought Experiment in Light of ARCUSA’s ‘Ecclesiology and Moral Discernment,’” 421.
  8. Olver, “Contraception’s Authority: An Anglican’s Liturgical and Synodical Thought Experiment in Light of ARCUSA’s ‘Ecclesiology and Moral Discernment,’” 426.
  9. Lambeth Conference 1920 Report, Resolution 68.
  10. Lambeth Conference 1930 Report, Resolution 15.
  11. Lambeth Conference 1930 Report, Resolution 17.
  12. Pope Pius IX, Casti Connubii, December 31, 1930, 56.
  13. Lambeth Conference 1958 Report, Resolution 115.
  14. Lambeth Conference 1958 Report, Resolution 112.
  15. John Morgan, “Anglicanism, Family Planning and Contraception: The Development of a Moral Teaching and Its Ecumenical Implications,” Journal of Anglican Studies 16, no. 2 (2018): 147–69, https://doi.org/10.1017/S1740355318000141, Accessed May 6, 2022.
  16. Rowan Williams, “The Body’s Grace,” in Theology and Sexuality: Classic and Contemporary Readings, ed. Eugene F. Jr. Rogers, Blackwell Readings in Modern Theology (Oxford, UK ; Blackwell Publishers, 2002), 320.
  17. Note: Williams argues that the allowance for normative sterile sex within marriage via contraceptives opens the door for same-sex sexual relations that are by their very nature sterile. This argument is similar to one put forward by G.E.M Anscombe that the rightness of the Roman Catholic position can be (partially) demonstrated by this logical sequence: “If you can turn intercourse into something other than the reproductive type of act…then why, if you can change it, should it be restricted to the married?…For if that is not its fundamental purpose there is no reason why for example “marriage” should have to be between people of opposite sexes” (“Contraception and Chastity,in Why Humanae Vitae Was Right: A Reader, ed. Janet E. Smith (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), 123).
  18. Charles Gore and the League of National Life, Lambeth on Contraceptives (London: A.R. Mowbray, 1930), Paragraph 1.
  19. T. S. Eliot, “Thoughts after Lambeth,” in The Anglican Moral Choice, ed. Paul Elmen, The Anglican Studies Series (Wilton, CT: Morehouse-Barlow Co., 1983), 117.
  20. Oliver O’Donovan, “Christian Moral Reasoning,” New Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Pastoral Theology, 1995, 122.
  21. Eliot, “Thoughts after Lambeth,” 118.
  22. Eliot, “Thoughts after Lambeth,” 118.
  23. O’Donovan, “Christian Moral Reasoning,” 125.
  24. ARCIC II, Life in Christ, paragraph 78.
  25. ARCIC II, Life in Christ, paragraph 78.
  26. John Henry Newman, “Certain Difficulties Felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching,” 1874, Section 5, https://www.newmanreader.org/works/anglicans/volume2/gladstone/sections5.html. Accessed April 13, 2018.
  27. John Henry Newman, “Certain Difficulties Felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching,” 1874, Section 5,
  28. Eliot, “Thoughts after Lambeth,” 116.
  29. Church of England, Book of Common Prayer 1662, 363.
  30. Olver, “Contraception’s Authority: An Anglican’s Liturgical and Synodical Thought Experiment in Light of ARCUSA’s ‘Ecclesiology and Moral Discernment,’” 430-1.
  31. ARCIC II, paragraph 78.
  32. Eliot, “Thoughts after Lambeth,” 116.
  33. Lambeth Conference 1930 Report, Resolution 15.
  34. Anglican Church in North America, Book of Common Prayer 2019, “Holy Matrimony,” (Huntington, CA: Anglican House Press, 2019), 208.
  35. ARCIC II, paragraph 79.

 


Jay Thomas

The Rev. Jay Thomas is the Rector of St. Mark's Anglican Church in Moultrie, Georgia.


'Anglican Pastoral Theology and Contraceptives' have 6 comments

  1. March 29, 2023 @ 12:09 pm Bart Wallace

    This is a good article but it leaves a lot of leeway in how Anglicans will interpret it. The problem is that Anglicans in the US and in the West in general are formed in a world where birth control is normative. With our already defective base assumptions formed by the culture we need a clearer and stronger teaching. It needs to be stated clearly by our bishops that birth control is an exception to the rule and to get around the rule we need to talk and walk through this issue with our priest. To find this exception to the rule there needs to be a clear moral and/or health reason. Not just I have two kids I am done or I have 3 and I am done and not well how would I afford more kids, I want to go to Europe on vacation soon or I can’t afford the private school I want for my children, or any other flippant reason.

    Reply

    • April 1, 2023 @ 8:24 am Jay Thomas

      Dear Bart,

      Thank you for your engagement on the topic. As someone whose family life (even before entering Anglicanism) was shaped (and continues to be shaped) profoundly by John Paul II’s “The Theology of the Body” and the teaching of Humanae Vitae, there are times where I feel like as you do that “if only it would be stated clearly by our bishops.” However, one of the charisms of Anglicanism is a reticence to make more morally binding statements than are necessary. In a world of rife dualism and activism, this can seem a capitulation, but in reality is a gift of the tradition. However, as Fr. Jefferies concludes in his own article on the topic (referenced below): “We do not have to only rely on the teachings of a Communion not our own; our own fathers have given us good direction.“ So, the bishops have spoken – need they say more?

      My contention is less that our bishops need to reiterate what has already been said, but rather, that the practitioners (laity embarking on the marital vocation and priests in premarital counseling) need to actually engage with our tradition. If we follow Hooker’s methodological approach of appealing to Scripture first, then natural law, then finally to the teaching of the Church then the answer is fairly clear. The issue is less what the bishops have/have not said, rather the issue is practitioners who engage neither Scripture, nor natural law, nor tradition and resort to secular principles and assumptions as they weigh these sacred matters.

      Reply

  2. March 29, 2023 @ 3:32 pm Jenny Glenn

    I would be interested in further discussion regarding means of contraception. It isn’t enough to to simply state that contraception is admissible as an exception to the rule. Some forms block fertilization, some prevent a fertilized egg from implanting, etc. As Anglicans, are we calling it a life at the point of fertilization or implantation or at the point of the heart beginning to beat? This is important because at some point it moves outside the realm of family planning and into the realm of protecting life.

    Reply

  3. March 31, 2023 @ 10:33 am Ben Jefferies

    Fr. Thomas, it seems the positive case you make as to how Anglicans can decide on contraception use or not rests largely on the door you believe to be opened by the clause, “if it be your will” in the Marriage Liturgy. I was in the room when this clause was debated on the Liturgy Task Force, and the only reason the clause was kept was in light of the reality that sometimes people marry who believe they may be sterile, or are post-menopause, etc. It would be pain-causing and empty in such cases to pray “Bestow children on them”, but, since we see miraculous fecundity over and over again the Scriptures, and so as to acknowledge the realities of their real situation, the phrase “if it be your will” was left in the prayer.

    I wonder, have you considered any of the arguments in my own article on the topic? https://northamanglican.com/an-anglican-pastoral-theology-of-contraception/

    Reply

    • April 1, 2023 @ 8:35 am Jay Thomas

      Dear Father,

      Thank you for that insight into the clause remaining in Marriage Rite. I confess that I intentionally did not engage with your essay as I formulated my own articulation; however, as I initially wrote this over a year ago, your essay stood at the foreground of much of my own research. I thought you handled and addressed the specifics of types of “allowable” contraceptives in such a commendable way that left me no room to contribute to that conversation, albeit, maybe I should have linked to that to demonstrate my presumption of those conclusions which you draw.

      My intention in writing was to pursue a similar tack but with a different set of eyes on the primary sources, and then bring into view my own perspective of the benefits of GFP rather than the normative NFP. A personal testimony of experiencing the differences between the two approaches may be called for to help clarify where I draw some of my conclusions from. However, I initially developed my views on GFP outside of the Anglican tradition and so I’m hesitant to posit them (to their full extent) as normative pastorally for Anglicans. But yes, I do find in the BCP the normative principle for positively articulating this view, how the intent of the phraseology factors in, though (now that I know it) is something I’ll have to reflect on.

      Reply


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