If Elizabeth Anscombe Were at the Synod in Rome….. (Note: We left the British-spellings intact in the quotes below)

10-15-2023Weekly Reflection

Who’s Elizabeth Anscombe you ask? She was one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century and a Catholic convert in her early teens. Why Elizabeth Anscombe? A great part of the crisis in the Church and in this Synod in Rome is the amount of people, who hold themselves out to be Catholic, who, in fact, reject Catholic teachings especially, the Church’s moral teachings on sexuality, contradicting the Scriptures and the apostolic Tradition of the Church. In that regard they are no longer Catholic. This group includes bishops and clergy as well as laity.

One bishop from Germany denies that fornication is a sin contradicting the Commandments and Scripture and has said if he did not think the Church’ teaching on homosexuality would change, he would leave the Church. He has already left the Church. In 1977 Elizabeth Anscombe wrote a long essay, Contraception and Chastity. It should be mandatory reading for all the participants at the Synod including the Holy Father. Below are some reminders from Anscombe of what this teaching is and its wisdom:

… There always used to be a colossal strain in ancient times; between heathen morality and Christian morality, and one of the things pagan converts had to be told about the way they were entering on was that they must abstain from fornication. This peculiarity of the Christian life was taught in a precept issued by the Council of Jerusalem, the very first council of the Christian Church. The prohibition was issued in the same breath as the merely temporary retention of Judaic laws prohibiting the eating of blood - no black pudding! - and the prohibition on eating the flesh of animals that had been sacrificed to idols. And in one way these may have been psychologically the same sort of prohibition to a pagan convert. The Christian life simply imposed these peculiar restrictions on you. All the same the prohibition on fornication must have stood out; it must have meant a very serious change of life to many, as it would today. Christian life meant a separation from the standards of that world: you couldn't be a Baal-worshipper, you couldn't sacrifice to idols, be a sodomite, practice infanticide, compatibly with the Christian allegiance. That is not to say that Christians were good; we humans are a bad lot and our lives as Christians even if not blackly and grossly wicked are usually very mediocre. But the Catholic Christian badge now again means separation, even for such poor mediocrities, from what the unchristian world in the West approves and professes. (emphasis added. Baal was the pagan idol that corrupted Israel and against which the prophet Elijah acted.)

Christianity was at odds with the heathen world, not only about fornication, infanticide and idolatry; but also about marriage. Christians were taught that husband and wife had equal rights in one another's bodies; a wife is wronged by her husband's adultery as well as a husband by his wife's. And Christianity involved non-acceptance of the contemptible role of the female partner in fornication, calling the prostitute to repentance and repudiating respectable concubinage. And finally for Christians divorce was excluded. These differences were the measure, great enough, of the separation between Christianity and the pagan world in these matters. By now, Christian teaching is, of course, known all over the world; and it goes without saying for those in the West that what they call "accepting traditional morals" means counting fornication as wrong - it's just not a respectable thing. But we ought to be conscious that, like the objection to infanticide, this is a Jewish Christian inheritance. And we should realize that heathen humanity tends to have a different attitude towards both. In Christian teaching a value is set on every human life and on men's chastity as well as on women's and this as part of the ordinary calling of a Christian, not just in connexion with the austerity of monks. Faithfulness, by which a man turned only to his spouse, forswearing all other women, was counted as one of the great goods of marriage.

The dissenters at the Synod want the Church to do the exact opposite and kneel before the pagan secular world adopting its morality or lack thereof. “Kneeling before the world” is how Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain described the crisis in the Church after the Second Vatican Council when many were rejecting Catholic teaching and morality claiming to be in the “spirit of Vatican II. He wrote this in a book called The Peasant of the Garonne written in 1966! This so-called spirit is actually a resurgence of the Modernist heresy that never really died and is now virulently operating in the Church.

But the quarrel is far greater between Christianity and the present-day heathen, post Christian, morality that has sprung up as a result of contraception. In one word: Christianity taught that men ought to be as chaste as pagans thought honest women ought to be; the contraceptive morality teaches that women need to be as little chaste as pagans thought men need be. And if there is nothing intrinsically wrong with contraceptive intercourse, and if it could become general practice everywhere …then it's very difficult to see the objection to this morality, for the ground of objection to fornication and adultery was that sexual intercourse is only right in the sort of set-up that typically provides children with a father and mother to care for them. If you can turn intercourse into something other than the reproductive type of act (I don't mean of course that every act is reproductive any more than every acorn leads to an oak-tree but it's the reproductive type of act) then why, if you can change it, should it be restricted to the married? Restricted, that is, to partners bound in a formal, legal, union whose fundamental purpose is the bringing up of children? 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. But then, of course, it becomes unclear why you should have a ceremony, why you should have a formality at all. And so we must grant that children are in this general way the main point of the existence of such an arrangement. But if sexual union can be deliberately and totally divorced from fertility, then we may wonder why sexual union has got to be married union. If the expression of love between the partners is the point, then it shouldn't be so narrowly confined.

The only objection, then, to the new heathen, contraceptive morality will be that the second condition I mentioned - nearuniversality of contraception where there ought not to be begetting - simply won't be fulfilled. Against the background of a society with that morality, more and more people will have intercourse with little feeling of responsibility, little restraint, and yet they just won't be so careful about always using contraceptives. And so the widespread use of contraceptives naturally leads to more and more rather than less and less abortion (The exception to this in the short term is where abortion has been encouraged and contraceptives not available, making contraceptives available then produces an immediate but only temporary reduction in abortions.) Indeed, abortion is now being recommended as a population control measure - a second line of defense.

The Christian Church has taught such an ideal of chastity: in a narrower sense, and in a broader sense in which chastity is simply the virtue whose topic is sex, just as courage is the virtue whose topic is danger and difficulty. In the narrower sense chastity means continence, abstention. I have to say something about this - though I'm reduced to stammering because I am a mediocre worldly person leading an ordinary sort of worldly life; nevertheless I'll try to say it even with stammering. What people are for is, we believe, like guided missiles, to home in on God, God who is the one truth it is infinitely worth knowing, the possession of which you could never get tired of, like the water which if you have you can never thirst again, because your thirst is slaked forever and always. It's this potentiality, this incredible possibility, of the knowledge of God of such a kind as even to be sharing in his nature, which Christianity holds out to people; and because of this potentiality every life, right up to the last, must be treated as precious. Its potentialities in all things the world cares about may be slight; but there is always the possibility of what it's for. We can't ever know that the time of possibility of gaining eternal life is over, however old, wretched, "useless" someone has become. (Note: No one ever becomes useless in an absolute sense because of human dignity that men/women are made in the image and likeness of God.)

The real attack is on the Church’s teaching, restated by Pope Paul VI in 1968 in the encyclical Humanae Vitae, that it is part of the nature of sexuality that sexual relations be open to the transmission of life that you cannot simply X out the procreative meaning without doing damage to the relations and to humanity as if pleasure were the only reason for sexual activity hence the ban on the use of contraceptives. Anscombe describes the current situation at the writing of her essay which has only gotten worse: If Christian standards of chastity were widely observed the world would be enormously much happier. Our world, for example, is littered with deserted wives - partly through that fantastic con that went on for such a long time about how it was part of liberation for women to have dead easy divorce: amazing - these wives often struggling to bring up young children or abandoned to loneliness in middle age. And how many miseries and hang-ups are associated with loss of innocence in youth! What miserable messes people keep on making, to their own and others' grief, by dishonourable sexual relationships! The Devil has scored a great propaganda victory: everywhere it's suggested that the troubles connected with sex are all to do with frustration, with abstinence, with society's cruel and conventional disapproval. As if, if we could only do away with these things, it would be a happy and life-enhancing romp for everyone; and as if all who were chaste were unhappy, not only unhappy but hardhearted and censorious and nasty. …The idea lacks any foundation, that the people who are bent upon and who get a lot of sexual enjoyment are more gentle, merciful and kind than those who live in voluntary continence