Wednesday, December 1, 2010

RC Hermeneutics and Divine Contraception

Pope Benedict XVI’s recent comments on condoms and male prostitution have sparked numerous debates about whether or not Rome’s stance against contraception is shifting. That is an issue for which so-called “traditional” RCs can fend for themselves; I have no interest in playing he-said/she-said. The pope’s comments, however, provide an occasion for wondering why Rome opposes contraception at all, and therefore provides me with the opportunity of reflecting on the subject of typology.

This post will not pretend to address all arguments against contraception (especially since I myself lean towards anti-contraception). However, because I have been told on more than one occasion by an RC that Protestants in general (and myself in particular) do not fully appreciate Scriptural typology and analogy - and what with the recent surge amongst the Reformed in the area of so-called biblical theology, I find this criticism a little amusing - I have felt inclined to show that it is rather the case that RCs are typically wont to cite passages with the barest appearance of relevance to a subject to, as they see it, buttress their beliefs. In the case of contraception, the arguments I most often hear from RCs and the arguments that will serve as the examples of the wild nature of RC hermeneutics (admittedly based on my singular experience) are as follows:

- Men are commanded to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28, 9:7, 35:11), and since a couple’s ability to fulfill this is at least hindered if contraception is used, contraception ought not be used.

- Union between man and wife reflects the union between Christ and His bride, the church (Ephesians 5:25-32); if the concept of contraception is not found in the latter covenant, then, it should not be found in the former covenant.

The first argument, in short, presupposes that believers are under the covenant of works and/or that we constitute the physical line through which the Messiah will come, as those were the contexts in which God's commands to Adam, Noah, and Jacob, were given. Both are false and, if taken to their logical conclusions, damnable. At the very least, both fail to understand the way in which Jesus fulfills the covenants - He, by His life, death, and resurrection, merited and secured the graces necessary for the salvation of the elect. We become children of God and Abraham by the Spirit, not the flesh. Only by divorcing history from Christ could one make such a hermeneutical faux pas. Ironically, in this case it is the RC, not the Protestant, who fails to see the typological connections extant in pre-redemptive history. As I have written elsewhere:

“Jesus made it clear in the Great Commission that the church was to spread His name throughout all nations (cf. Romans 10:14-15), and the reason He did not do this on His own [is]… because the assistance of the church is necessary in the same way woman was necessary for Adam to have protologically fulfilled the dominion mandate (compare Genesis 22:18 to Matthew 28:19). The church is God’s chosen means of effecting His predestined, merited goals. She spreads the gospel which, when the Father sends His Spirit to regenerate an individual unto the image of Christ, adopts the newborn believer into God’s family so that he or she can further propagate God’s word, literally extending the temples of God in which the Holy Spirit dwells and which we are, as a royal priesthood, to treat with care. The primary point is that the dominion mandate is fulfilled spiritually, not physically (John 1:12-13), which is why Paul – who didn’t marry – could call Timothy and his other disciples his own children (1 Corinthians 7:8, Titus 1:4, &c.).”

Too, we know that the way in which Christ and the church procreates is through the preaching of the word (Romans 10:17), as that is the appointed means by which new creations – Spirit-children – come to faith (James 1:18). The assertion that in such work a notion of contraception is non-existent – and therefore ought not to be existent in the analogous relationship between man and wife – may seem plausible at first glance. However, considering the plethora of times God has hardened the minds of men against His word (John 12:37-40), refusing to work miracles or speak plainly for the express purpose of prohibiting unbelievers from becoming children in God’s family (Matthew 11:21 and 13:10-15, respectively), may one not suggest this is indeed a form of contraception? That we are to preach the gospel to all without exception, that the Son gives life to whom He wishes, and that the Son does not wish to give life to all without exception would actually seem to imply a sort of divine contraception.

One could argue that this is a case in which analogical connections are pushed too far. I would agree. But in that case, it might similarly be argued that using the fact that the union between Christ and church is similar to man and wife to argue that there must be similarities between the way in which each covenantal union procreates is a case in which analogical connections are pushed too far.

As opposed to the naive hermeneutic which republishes as commandment that which is accomplished by Christ and spiritually fulfilled by means of His bride, this second argument connotes a radical hermeneutic. The common denominator is a system which encourages a defensive, rather than a biblical, theology.

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