Thursday, March 01, 2007

Asceticism, Contraception and the East/West Divide

The following is my most resent response to the debate about, well contraception and asceticism on Michael Liccione's blog Sacramentum Vitae. For the complete debate please check the comment box on the post Ooops, I did it again..

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Ochlophobist has, again, done a much better job of expressing my own views then I do--thank you.

I would not suggest that failure to fast and the use of artificial contraception are moral equivalent. However, I would also point out that the current official Roman position represents a significant departure from not only the Orthodox practice, but even their own historical practice and this for no real reason.

Our response is situated within our adherence to a more rigorous ascetical tradition then what is found in the Roman Catholic Church.

Again while I am aware that, historically, there are differences in these tradition, a commitment to a shared ascetical life is an essential element for any Christian response to the prevailing "culture of death."

Certainly there are Orthodox Christians who are indifferent to our own ascetical tradition. But this negligence simply makes them bad Orthodox Christians. Likewise if in fact an Orthodox bishop or priest were to teach that artificial contraception was a good thing (rather then a tolerable thing) then that bishop or priest would be deviating from the patristic tradition--or if one prefers being a bad Orthodox Christian.

While there is some room for different standards, the lack of these standards among Roman Catholics represents a serious departure from the shared tradition of the early Church and seriously undermines the integrity of the Roman teaching against contraception.

More broadly as I read Catholic--and specifically papal--writings on Orthodox/Catholic relations the theme is that the Church must "breath with both lungs"--Eastern and Western. This means, on the specific issue of contraception, that the East must certainly take more seriously the West's position that contraception is not morally acceptable.

By "serious" I mean not a mere formal acknowledgment, but a willingness to re-appraise our own pastoral praxis (since we have as such no official position equivalent to Humane Vitae) on the question.

I would argue that the West needs to take more serious the Orthodox concerns. And, as it does for the Orthodox, this means not merely a formal acknowledgment, but a willingness to re-appraise your own official position and pastoral praxis on the question. Specifically, this means the lack of rigorous ascetical standards among Roman Catholics.

In my experience at least, very few Roman Catholics--on any level--are willing to entertain the idea that Roman Catholics need to take more seriously their own historical ascetical tradition (which while there are difference, was not unlike the current Orthodox practice).

Just as the Orthodox must seriously question ourselves on our lax position on conjugal sexual morality (and it is often lax on both contraception and the blessing of a second, albeit non-sacramental, union), Roman Catholics I would suggest need to look at their own lax ascetical life and their overemphasis of contraception (arguments by some Catholic theologians that the teaching of Humanae Vitae is infallible is a case in point).

Until both tradition take seriously their own practice, and potential shortcomings, in light of the other tradition, any take of "sister Churches" or the "Church breathing with both lungs" is only ecclesiological sentimentalism.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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