Monday, August 14, 2006

A dialogue with an Orthodox priest on contraception
Father wrote:
If I was invited to articulate Orthodox truth in 10 minutes it wouldn't be any sort of list of responses to moral/personal/pastoral issues ... although I would mostly agree with you on these ... but less so on contraception.
When I asked why ‘less so on contraception’ he answered:
Maybe for the same reason that a significant number of the 2nd Vatican Council fathers wanted a change as well ... and also for the same reason that the teaching is marked more by its breach than by its observance in that Church. The arguments against an absolute position are well known.
But if you claim to follow the church fathers and not secular opinion, as much of Anglicanism once claimed and is Orthodoxy’s apologetical claim today, you can’t make excuses for that innovation, no matter how many RCs, no matter how high in rank, hold wrong opinions on the matter. The Pope’s with the fathers on this one, Father.
Even the fathers did not simply accept all elements of their precursors ... for example, some of the early fathers were chiliasts. Later fathers and universally since rejected chiliasm.
I know the fathers individually could and did hold wrong opinions, Father. Can’t think of any who excused contraception and, even if any did, as you say of chiliasm the church universally rejected it.
But my point is that if you take a snapshot at any two points on the timeline you will find change on certain key issues. There is no indication that there is any specially favoured period when one could drawn the line and say "this is it" nor any period of time when consensus becomes set in stone.
But AFAIK the case against contraception is consistent throughout history, Father. Before Lambeth in 1930 no Christians allowed it — it wasn’t ‘just an RC thing’ as it’s viewed and described today. (The same was true of abortion.)
You have not at all answered my question about change and development. The Church did not judge slavery to be inconsistent with Christianity for the greater part of its history either. As soon as you admit the historical data concerning change PER SE, the principle is conceded that the Church has the power and authority from Christ to enter into a better understanding of any matter.
Good point, Father! But don’t the Orthodox try to score an apologetical point by claiming they and they alone don’t accept development of doctrine? And I can’t equate liberating human beings from literal slavery to ‘liberating’ the individual by derailing sex from one of its obvious (but not only, we agree) purposes.

Make excuses for contraception and you’ll keep losing your second- and third-generation ethnics and the populations of Eastern Europe will keep declining for exactly the same reasons as among liberal Protestants in the West.
My ONLY aim here was to establish the legitimacy of doctrinal and praxis development ... not to consider the issue per se. Before Newman and 19th-century idealism, Rome herself denied such development resorting to the notion of disciplina arcani to justify apparent development. Most Orthodox now do recognise that positions have and do change within Tradition. I hardly think that the PRINCIPLE of this is controversial.
Thank you, Father, for your clarification on the Orthodox view of development of doctrine.

So what about the consequences of contraception for the Orthodox as I described in my last message?
The settling view seems to be (you know we don't go a big deal on encyclicals) that contraception is permissible to plan a family but the following cases are excluded:-

(1) To support casual sex, (obviously). We still teach sex within heterosexual marriage only.
(2) To vitiate the wishes of the other spouse.
(3) To preclude conception for economic reasons where that would not be a reasonable position.

The correct approach on this as so many other issues would be for a couple to work this out with the appropriate guidance from their spiritual father(s).
Yes, that’s the standard modern Orthodox view — unknown in Christendom before Lambeth in 1930.

What about the parallel to what’s happening among liberal Protestants? Or among secular Eastern Europeans?
There are many other things "unknown in Christendom before X" and some of these are attributable to your own Church. 1930, 1830, 1730, 1630, 1530, 1430 .... whatever.

The difference between us and the Protestants & Secularists is NOT that nothing changes but rather that we have changes that are steered by "due process."
OK then... so what will the consequences of accepting contraception be for Eastern Europeans and your second- and third-generation ethnics?
I haven't a clue. This isn't exactly a recent development in our discipline anyway ... in the west it's probably about 30 years old ... in eastern Europe probably a little more recent.
Eastern Europeans haven’t been churchgoers for a long time but birth control in the form of abortion, which of course we agree is wrong, has taken root among these now secularised people. The rhetorical question for most Russian women (or actual question in confession) isn’t ‘Have you had one?’ but ‘How many?’

Do you really want the church to go along with the contraception mentality that, yes, this is a part of?
It has no effect on us spiritually and as to the demographic? ... as I said, I just don't know. It's not anything that gets anybody excited in Orthodoxy.
Probably what the Church of England said from 1930 through the 1960s...

(Icebergs? Pshaw! This ship is unsinkable...)

Again (and again, in peace) I suggest, Father, that I have seen the future of this ‘development’ and it’s the demographics of Western Europe.

It doesn’t get anybody excited in liberal Protestantism either.

Remember what Jesus said he’d do to those who are neither hot nor cold? Not pleasant that.
We will just have to agree to disagree. We just do not see it as something with such momentous import as you do.

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