Pope Paul VI to the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Michael Ramsey

"(B)y entering into our house, you are entering your own house, we are happy to open our door and heart to you." - Pope Paul VI to Dr Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Anglicans and Contraception

Filipino society is probably the last on earth to seriously debate on artificial contraception as part of the 2011 Reproductive Health bill (RH). However, debate on this is more than a hundred years old when as a result of worsening living conditions in England as a result of migration and the Industrial Revolution, in a classic Malthusian sense birth control was seen as a way to solve the problem.

The Anglican Communion at first opposed artificial contraception as stated in Resolution 68 of the 1920 Lambeth Conference

"We utter an emphatic warning against the use of unnatural means for the avoidance of conception, together with the grave dangers - physical, moral and religious - thereby incurred, and against the evils with which the extension of such use threatens the race. In opposition to the teaching which, under the name of science and religion, encourages married people in the deliberate cultivation of sexual union as an end in itself, we steadfastly uphold what must always be regarded as the governing considerations of Christian marriage. One is the primary purpose for which marriage exists, namely the continuation of the race through the gift and heritage of children; the other is the paramount importance in married life of deliberate and thoughtful self-control."

Then the Anglican bishops held on to the traditional belief on fertility regulation. However in the 1930  Lambeth Conference (Resolution 15), Anglicans approved contraception in particular cases.

"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."

One hundred ninety three bishops voted "yes" and sixty seven voted "no".

The Anglican Communion was the first of the non-Catholic churches to allow contraception. Since then most non Catholic churches have allowed artificial contraception. A few small Protestant churches  more or less still hold the Roman Catholic position on the matter. The Orthodox churches hold varying views on the matter with some bishops lauding Humanae vitae and some allowing for a more liberal view. The Roman Catholic Church remains vehemently opposed to artificial contraception on moral grounds even if a sizeable number of Catholics do not agree with her.

However many Anglicans at the time opposed the resolution. You can find various positions opposing it here. Those opposed were mainly from the Anglo Catholic wing with some from the Evangelical wing of the Church of England. It is notable that in all these essays, the writers appealed to the unchanging practice of the Holy Catholic Church.

This opposition crosses into the history of Anglicanism in the Philippines. Father John Staunton of St Mary's Sagada was resolutely against the Lambeth decision and he became a Roman Catholic priest afterwards.

The Anglican Communion has based its stance on the practical difficulties of married couples and that by 1958, the bishops had accepted that many Anglicans use contraception and left the decision to use it on the couples themselves.

Today this is the general position of the Anglican Church. Many Orthodox churches hold a similar position to that of the 1930 Lambeth resolution. Many Roman Catholic laity, priests and even bishops and cardinals privately or publicly hold similar positions to that of the Anglican one.  The Episcopal Church in the Philippines has recently published its position on the RH bill. The ECP's support of the bill is consistent with the Anglican Communion's 1958 stance on the matter that the decision on what contraceptive to use lies with the married couple. This is also the general position of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) which the ECP is a founding member.

Nonetheless in the debates on the RH bill in the Philippines one of the Anglican divines in 1930 asks a question that is valid and relevant for us today.

"How far will the argument for contraceptives logically carry us?"

This same theologian also anticipates the Blessed Pope John Paul II's challenge on his election as pope. "Be not afraid"!

"The Church is right after all; we may not put asunder ends which God has joined together. And, if we think, with some timid persons of long ago, that "if the case of a man is so with his wife, it is not expedient to marry," we must leave the joy and the pain, the laughter and the tears, of home to those who are not afraid of them."

This is something Roman Catholics in the Philippines have lost in the debate on RH. We may be afraid to live and so we look for the easy way out!

The Anglo Catholic wing of the Church of England in 1930 even had a collect for pro life and against artificial contraception!

O Holy Father, enable us always to think and pursue such things as are pure, lovely and of good report; that by Thy grace we may become fit to glorify and enjoy Thee forever; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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