Lambeth of God, you take away the sense of the world…

“Liberal Protestantism is really … a new religion, but it is no longer Protestantism — it is pagan humanitarianism, it is the creed of social service built on shifting and unstable experiments, but not on the demonstrated facts of materialistic science. … Since a week ago last Saturday we can no longer expect them to defend the law of God. These sects will work out the very logic of their ways and in fifty or one hundred years there will be only the Church and paganism. We will be left to fight the battle alone — and we will.”

— Fr. Fulton J. Sheen, The American Birth Control League’s Birth Control Review, Volume XV, Number 4 (April 1931), pp. 142-143.

When I was making my drift into the Church official about a decade ago, I wrote a post, which made a bit of a splash, about Christian tradition and Catholic moral teaching. It’s rather long, and, believe it or not, given to even greater rhetorical excess than my current style. The point here is that the 1930 Lambeth Conference plays a key role in that splashy essay. If you didn’t know, and if you’ll tolerate me citing Wikipedia,

Lambeth Conferences serve a collaborative and consultative function, expressing “the mind of the [Anglican] communion” on issues of the day. Resolutions which a Lambeth Conference may pass are without legal effect, but they are nonetheless influential.

Note that last caveat well: without legal effect yet very influential. Well, the 1930 conference was most certainly a biggie, almost entirely due to Resolution 15:

The Life and Witness of the Christian Community – Marriage and Sex

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.

Voting: For 193; Against 67.

Within decades almost every single Christian fellowship had succumbed to the siren song of moral compromise on contraception, such that when Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae in 1968, he was almost literally unus contra mundum.

It’s common these days to compare the preparations for the October 2014 Synod on the Family to the run-up to the promulgation of Humanae Vitae, but I agree with Dr. Mirus that the situations are not parallel, albeit for different reasons. Instead of “Humanae Vitae 2.0,” I think we are witnessing a run-up to a new “Lambeth 1930” crisis on the very footsteps of the Church. Insofar as Rome shall hold the line–even if only by a mere, yet providentially saving, iota–I think that any course that diverges even a footstep or two from the official Petrine decisions shall be as subtle as it is devastating for the Church wherever it is taken up. Part of the reason that our historical moment is unlike the Humanae Vitae episode, is that so much more is being tackled by the Synod. Alas, however, the more that is said at the Synod, the worse: “where words are many sin is not absent.” The tumor of moral compromise relentlessly feeds on the nutrient paste of pastoral whitewashing. I am, of course, hoping for a Humanae Vitae 2.o moment, but I think that the nature of the discussion is already so sprawling that we’ll probably just get a heap of incoherent synodal action plans to bury the much anticipated gem of papal clarity in verbose mud.

I admit what should by now be obvious, namely, that I can’t articulate very well my case for “a Lambeth 1930 parallel”–and even if I could, what do I know and what can I effect? As such, I will simply emphasize how striking the linguistic parallels are between what Resolution 15 wrought and what the rising tide of schismatics would like to wring. In the same vein, I shall close with some striking quotations concerning the fallout of Lambeth 1930, again, simply to remind you how important and compelling received language is, even while doctrine-on-the-books remains unscathed.

* “In order that she [the Catholic Church] may preserve the chastity of the nuptial union from being defiled by this foul stain, she raises her voice in token of her divine ambassadorship and through our mouth proclaims anew: any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.” — Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii, December 31, 1930, Section 4, Paragraph 4.

* “Birth Control, as popularly understood today and involving the use of contraceptives, is one of the most repugnant of modern aberrations, representing a 20th-century renewal of pagan bankruptcy.” — Dr. Walter A. Maier, Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri.

* “The whole disgusting [birth control] movement rests on the assumption of man’s sameness with the brutes. … Its [the Federal Council of Churches] deliverance on the matter of birth control has no authorization from any churches representing it, and what it has said I regard as most unfortunate, not to use any stronger words. It certainly does not represent the Methodist Church, and I doubt if it represents any other Protestant Church in what it has said on this subject.” — Bishop Warren Chandler, Methodist Episcopal Church South, April 13, 1931.

* “Its [Federal Council of Churches] recent pronouncement on birth control should be enough reason, if there were no other, to withdraw from support of that body, which declares that it speaks for the Presbyterian and other Protestant churches in ex cathedra pronouncements.” The Presbyterian, April 2, 1931.

* “Carried to its logical conclusion, the committee’s report, if carried into effect, would sound the death-knell of marriage as a holy institution by establishing degrading practices which would encourage indiscriminate immorality. The suggestion that the use of legalized contraceptives would be ‘careful and restrained’ is preposterous.” The Washington Post, March 22, 1931

* “It is the misfortune of the churches that they are too often misused by visionaries for the promotion of ‘reforms’ in fields foreign to religion. The departures from Christian teachings are astounding in many cases, leaving the beholder aghast at the willingness of some churches to teach ‘Christ and Him crucified.’ If the churches are to become organizations for political and scientific propaganda, they should be honest and reject the Bible, scoff at Christ as an obsolete and unscientific teacher, and strike out boldly as champions of politics and science as modern substitutes for the old-time religion.” The Washington Post, March 24, 1931 

Let’s hope that only the “wrong” kind of Catholic gets smoked out by the Synod if–nay, assuch reformist language continues to ramify in the Church.


About The Codgitator (a cadgertator)

Catholic convert. Quasi-Zorbatic. Freelance interpreter, translator, and web marketer. Former ESL teacher in Taiwan (2003-2012) and former public high school teacher (2012-2014). Married father of three. Multilingual, would-be scholar, and fairly consistent fitness monkey. My research interests include: the interface of religion and science, the history and philosophy of science and technology, ancient and medieval philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience. Please pray for me.
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