The Gospel Truth

Dead Certainties | April 6, 2015

I was intrigued by Simon Schama 1992 book, Dead Certainties. His title reminded me of my posts Uncertain Truths I & II. Schama surmised that even historical facts are not a 100% reliable.  Historians constantly argue over the meaning of the “facts.”

Since historians are to history what theologians are to theology. can the same unreliability be also as true of theology?

Theologians, who are the gatekeepers of faith and tradition, often  contradict each other. It falls to the Church magisterium, primarily the Pope to keep Church teachings on a steady and reliable course.

Since the magisterium is composed of human and not divine beings error, politics and guile often come into play. While the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church, its ways may not be that obvious or even understandable to the human intellect.   God may have some more mysterious purposes for even the turmoil and dissention that periodically afflicts His Church.

In modern times, supernatural issues do not offer any cause for concern.

But the mundane affairs of public and private morality, which ebb and flow with changes in the culture that supports them, can seriously divide the faithful.

I am not saying that there are no absolutes in the 10 Commandments but that each one elicits discussion and can change with further and deeper understanding.

The most overt of these is Thou shalt kill.   According to my 1963 college ethics book, which had the official seal of the Church—the Imprimatur–there were three exceptions to the rule–a just war, self-defense and the death penalty.

Most moral laws and arguments are founded on what might be analogized to a geometric theorem. In Geometry you have to start with a given in order to built a logical formula that makes what follows true and unassailable. Overturn the theorem and the formula collapses like a House of Cards.

The death penalty serves as the best example of the nature of a changing and even an evolving faith.   Saint John Paul II cast serious doubt on the efficacious use of the death penalty as a mode of self-defense in his 1995 Encyclical Evangelium Vitae.   He said that the situation did not exist where a state needed the death penalty to protect itself.

During a discussion in Bible study on another papal encyclical, one man stated emphatically that the pope’s encyclicals had to be taken seriously because they were not opinions but the teachings of the Church.

Many in the Church go so far as to assume that encyclicals are protected under the mantle of infallibility.

John Paul II did not offer any concrete evidence or rationale, scientific, moral or otherwise to support his change in the traditional understanding of a valid Church teaching on the death penalty.

Catholic writer and attorney, Helen Alvarre provided an insight to the future saint’s thinking during a talk I attended at St. Louis University on the eve of the pope’s visit to St. Louis in 1998. She said, He just didn’t like to see anyone die. This sounded like a personal opinion to me.

Since traditionalists are still free to believe in the death penalty, I guess we are all Cafeteria Catholics now!

The empirical data generally supports the death penalty as a deterrent. In the dozen years the death penalty was federally outlawed in all 50 states, the murder rate skyrocketed. Thousands of innocent victims died because of its absence.

Another teaching that has been under fire for over a half century has been the Church’s ban on artificial contraception. Paul VI’s 1968 Encyclical Humanae Vitae inspired a widespread protest among millions of Catholic married couples that hurt the Church in many ways.

The background history that led to the pope’s unpopular decision is as compelling as it is sad.   The Church has been extremely consistent in this teaching, dating back to early Church history. However John T. Noonan’s 1965 book, Contraception, proved that most of its Biblical roots, such as the reliance on Onan, who had wasted his seed was a distortion of its Biblical meaning.

The Church has also relied on some of the teachings of the Stoics, who believed intercourse unlawful except for the purpose of creating children. The Stoics also condemned intercourse for pleasure because of an erroneous belief that during intercourse, but not otherwise, the female emitted a seed containing a soul.

This is the same kind of Manichean thinking that fueled the twisted thought of Augustine on sex and marriage.

The contraception ban has also relied on the natural law. According to another source I consulted, the Natural Law Theory of the Stoics, focused strictly on the sexual appetites and instincts of animals who mindlessly copulated singularly for procreation without any moral component.

Marital relations are far more complicated and run on a different plane than that of the mostly promiscuous animal kingdom.

With the appearance of the first oral contraceptives in 1960, many in the Church argued for a reconsideration of the Church’s historical positions. Neither John XXIII nor his successor Paul VI wanted the almost three thousand bishops and other clerics in Rome for Vatican II to address the birth control issue even though many of these bishops expressed their desire to bring this pressing pastoral issue before the Council.  Why?

In 1963 Pope John XXIII established a commission of six European non-theologians to study questions of birth control and population. After John’s death in 1963, Pope Paul VI added theologians to the commission and over three years expanded it to 72 members from five continents. The make-up included 16 theologians, 13 physicians and five women without medical credentials and an executive committee of 16 bishops, including seven cardinals.

Over several years the original members of the commission had considered and weighed carefully the relevant theological, sociological and psychological evidence.

A preliminary vote of the inclusive body showed an unofficial tally showed 52 to 4 in favor of reform with two abstentions.   Despite the fact that the pope stacked the commission with 15 cardinals, archbishops and bishops as official members for the final week of discussion, the high-level prelates reportedly voted 9 to 3 with three abstentions that the use of contraceptives was not intrinsically evil.

The Commission’s 1966 Majority Report proposed that artificial birth control was not intrinsically evil and that Catholic couples should be allowed to decide for themselves about the methods to be employed. According to this report, use of contraceptives should be regarded as an extension of the already accepted rhythm method.

Especially important in changing commission members’ minds was an important survey Patty and Patrick Crowley did of the members of their Catholic Family Movement. The CFM members reported movingly how the rhythm method did not work for them and how it was inhibiting intimacy and hurting their marriages.

It is my belief, despite of the revolutionary nature of St. John Paul’s The Theology of the Body that the Church leadership does not understand the importance of marital intimacy and comfort in helping couples weather the many storms that flow naturally from such a relationship.  Sexual relations are often the metaphysical glue that holds marriages together.

The Commission also produced a minority report which argued If it should be declared that contraception is not evil in itself, then we should have to concede frankly that the Holy Spirit had been on the side of the Protestant churches in 1930.

It should likewise have to be admitted that for a half a century the Spirit failed to protect… the Catholic hierarchy from a very serious error… had condemned thousands of innocent human acts, forbidding, under pain of eternal damnation, a practice which would now be sanctioned. (Pius XI— Castii Canubii)

The commission’s majority report, which was intended to be kept secret, was leaked to and published in the National Catholic Reporter in 1967. A year later, amidst widespread expectations, Paul VI issued the encyclical Humanae Vitae, reaffirming the church’s official ban on all forms of artificial contraception.

It is arguable that the die had already been cast just by the very fact of the Pope’s calling for a special commission, which created a reasonable doubt in the minds of millions of married couples. This should have relegated the issue to the private consciences of the faithful.

To hide behind the rubric of Infallibility is troubling because it ignores the facsimile of doubt it created from the very beginning. To date only a handful of papal statements have publicly been declared to be infallible… and only two of them after 1870 when Infallibility became part of Church dogma.

The Vatican also contributed to this situation by failing to fully inform the faithful which issues had been infallibly settled and which ones still bore the possibility of fallibility and change.

In 2013 Catholic writer Frank Maurovich, founding editor of The Catholic Voice relates his personal story of a 1964 interview with Dr. Thomas Hayes, a biophysicist working for the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley.  Hayes believed he had a viable solution for the Church’s birth control dilemma.

Hayes underscored the biological fact that randomness in human intercourse differs radically from animal behavior whose biological drive occurs during specific times to perpetuate the species. Quite bluntly humans, especially men, are always in heat!

Marital relations serve another purpose beyond procreation, namely as expressions of love, joy, healing and mutual support. The conjugal act is not the act of one, but of two. And so, we cannot say that every conjugal act is open to generation. Once we learned that the breach was made…he concluded!

In Hayes’ understanding the probabilistic nature (of procreation) is due to the random spacing of the individual acts of intercourse rather than any probability within each act of sexual intercourse itself.   As a result he concludes it does not then depend on the direct fecundity of each and every particular act.

This answers the question many young married pose: Why does every marital act have to be open to pregnancy?

Logic, according to Hayes, dictates that if a married couple purposely interferes with the randomness of sexual acts, even in the rhythm method or what is called today, Natural Family Planning, they have transformed by an act of will what was a random natural act to a human act at a specific time in order to avoid conception. Thus he concludes that all forms of contraception should be permissible.

Hayes’ arguments do not support nor lead to the philosophy of Planned Parenthood.   His article comes to the same conclusion as the commission’s final report that the church’s constant teaching holds that each marriage should be fruitful and couples should avoid a contraceptive mentality that is, avoiding childbirth for selfishness, convenience or material gain.

Hayes also pointed out that the church had already approved the use of the rhythm method. If this approval has relied upon biological naturalness to distinguish rhythm from other contraceptive methods, it would now seem possible for the church to extend its approval to all contraceptive methods of birth control (provided, of course, husband and wife have serious reasons for limiting births in their family).

The possibility of acceptance by the church of all contraceptive methods of birth control has come about not by any change in moral principles but by the application of a more accurate picture of human reproduction as reported by current biological concepts.

It should go without saying that this principle does not include abortifacients, which are not contraceptives but work after a conception.

Could Hayes’ randomness when coupled with Onan and the Stoics view of animal biology lead to the dissolution of the historical theorem that created the ban on artificial contraception?

In my opinion it seems that more evidence exists for a modification in this teaching than Saint John Paul II offered for in virtually eliminating the death penalty.

With regard to the Church’s loss of face on infallibility since most people do not even understand a doctrine that the Church has done little to fully explain and has virtual kept locked up in the Vatican vault, I think that loss would be minimal.  Widespread dissent and disobedience to Pope Paul VI’s encyclical has already done its damage to the Papacy.

I also think that any blowback would pale by comparison as to how the Church has bungled the Pederasty Scandal.  To me this is far a more serious challenge to the Church’s integrity than any pill.

If Pope Francis truly wants to be the pope of hope and healing this would be an excellent issue for him to fully address.



  1. Why is the Catholic Church the right way to truth? I find it is too changeable. There are no churches who have that kind of wisdom.The Bible is my only source of truth. If you have the Spirit of the living God living in you he will lead you to truth. The way that happened to me was in a personal revelation in 1974. I did what the Bible said to do to know God and his will for my life. John 3:16. I acknowledge Jesus as my Savior from sin and asked for forgiveness and received him as Lord or in other words, I put him in charge. It has been a work in action for over 40 years now. He changed my old thinking for his thoughts.I have had to study his word daily to learn this.I have learned to trust him in all things, good or bad to live with. I have found much more peace when I do this. The church is made up of many minds, wills and emotions. The Pope is not perfect. He has to follow Jesus the same way. The priests certainly are not. They are just men that have a calling on their life. The Holy Spirit comes in to abide with the person who allows him entrance.. I was baptized Catholic. I’ve studied a lot about that church. It changes a lot over the centuries. Gods word NEVER changes. You don’t need another mans interpretation to know what God wants you to do. You just need the Bible and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Otherwise people just think it is foolishness.

    Comment by mary jo sanchez — April 6, 2015 @ 9:53 pm

  2. I’m sure there would be many in your timeline who suffered at the hands of clergy, it breaks through the psyche eventually, as it would have broken through elsewhere causing excruciating pain especially for a young child.
    Worse than animals.

    Comment by L. Newington — April 6, 2015 @ 10:13 pm

  3. Thirty – forty years ago I asked a priest about the church allowing the death penalty. He was a very
    conservative man. He said that it would be unjust to
    us (the taxpayers) for us to have support a person who was sent to prison for life. No doubt it would be very costly if the person was young and healthy and could
    live for maybe forty or fifty years.

    I don’t recall just when the Church decided otherwise.

    I suppose that there are cases of mental instability that could justify a person being spared the death penalty but I am inclined to think that such an excuse could be
    used when it was not warranted.

    I read the book you mentioned by John Noonan
    years ago. Do you recall reading that intercourse
    after one became pregnant was frowned upon be-
    cause the reason for intercourse was procreation and
    that had been achieved. Do you recall reading that
    the Church frowned on but did not forbid intercourse
    after menopause because it would not result in pro-

    When in a Catholic girls high school I was taught that
    it was a mortal sin for a wife to refuse her husband. If
    that was true then it would seem that when couples
    use NFP the wife commits a lot of mortal sins if her husband is an affectionate man and they love one another.

    Regarding the situation re: Onan – he never wanted to raise up children in his brother’s name. To never want
    to have children is different than wanting to limit the
    number of offspring or to space the pregnancies for
    the physical welfare of the mother.

    Women endure pregnancy for nine months and then
    give birth. It would seem that for their physical welfare it would be prudent for them to avoid pregnancy until their child is a year or two years old. Thus they would
    not be open to new life during that time.

    Re: The Pill – it is most unfortunate that the clerics did not warn of the dangerous side affects of the birth control pill as well as inform couples that it has the potential to abort an embryo without the woman even knowing she conceived. The IUD can also cause an abortion.

    Yrs. ago I read an article by a cleric which said that
    NFP was a barrier methold; the barrier was time as
    opposed to a space barrier.

    I think many obeyed the Church rule regarding contraception because of fear of eternal damnation but did not really embrace the idea that it was intrinsically evil.

    Recently I was in a group where there was discussion regarding abstinence from meat on all Fridays of the year or else doing something else as being MANDATED. (not just suggested)

    On person had a Catechism by Fr. John Hardon that said it was a grave sin not to abide by such. I asked a priest and was told it was a venial sin. In my search for info regarding this I decided to see what Thomas Aquinas had to say about fasting/abstaining. I was
    VERY surprised by what I found in the Summa. Question 147 – I answer that, As stated above (Article 6), fasting was instituted by the Church in order to bridle the concupiscence of the flesh……………………….
    so that from their consumption (flesh of animals, milk, eggs) there results a greater surplus available for seminal matter, which when abundant becomes an incentive for lust. Hence the Church has bidden those who fast to abstain especially from these foods.

    It is difficult to understand the issues you raise and no wonder that some question them.

    Comment by M Fritz — April 8, 2015 @ 8:13 pm

  4. I can’t add a thing to your honest and faithful dissertation. And I agree that many of the Church’s teachings then and new raise more questions than provide answers.

    Comment by Bill Borst — April 14, 2015 @ 3:10 pm

  5. A fried recently said he thought that my reasoning could be used to support gay marriage. Read my answer below.

    I think the two subjects are apples and oranges– I don’t know if I actually justified it but from a conscience standpoint, I think the Vatican’s handling of it provided enough “reasonable doubt” to allow for the primacy of the individual conscience to decide. I can understand that the pill facilitated a lot of immoral behavior but so did slinky clothes, motel rooms, automobiles and other cultural improvements that provided more freedom of behavior but I limit it strictly to married people for its moral structure.

    As for homo marriage—there is no way that they can be “married” in the traditional sense. That’s in my view because the whole idea is founded on a lie…one of them has to be the girl in the case of male homosexuals.

    They have proved my point by starting to call each other, husband and wife. how do they decide which is which…and what does that make you and me…it is pure Nominialism…think William of Occam…(Name of the Rose)

    A HC mate died last year—we got the postcards months after the first announcement from our class agent…the card said that a guy named Sherwin wanted us to know that his husband had died while the first one identified Sherwin as the husband. So which is it—are they both calling each other husbands?

    When you tamper with the language you destroy what it is you try to describe and the language itself then has no meaning.

    Comment by Bill Borst — April 15, 2015 @ 7:19 pm

  6. I’ve got one bone to pick—this concept that the human race are “always in heat”. Actually that is a sort of tacit acceptance of the very concept of sex for pleasure as opposed to sex for procreation. It’s our highly-developed minds which can make the mere seeking of pleasure through an act originally existing for the purpose of procreation and ( originally ) more likely to occur at certain times ( through the action of pheremones on the vomeronasal organ ) just as powerful as the pheremone-driven sexual activity. It’s an “undocumented feature” in our special operating system.

    Here’s my big objection to the use of contraception ( and it has nothing whatever to do with religion or traditions—it’s entirely biological ). I don’t necessarily see the desire for being able to relieve one’s sexual needs within the bounds of a monogamous relationship without the issue of procreation as “selfish”. I still believe that most people most of the time want to be “good” and that being selfish is not commonly seen as being “good”—-apologies to Ayn Rand and her devotees. I reject that assertion. Instead what we have is a society in which we have been taught now for generations that at some point there will be “too many people” and there’s just as much relating to a sense of taking responsibility to head off a problem we’ve been taught to perceive looming in the offing about the use of contraception during our mutual relieving of carnal needs within the traditional marriage as there is anything about “selfishness”.

    You’ve referred to those who would *abstain* solely for the purpose of limiting the amount of procreation as “stoics” so let’s face it; for most people to abstain from getting their carnal needs met through intercourse is the denial of a deep-seated need whether it be vomeronasal-stimulation related or ( now ) driven by our brain’s inordinate capacity to rearrange our reality to seek pleasure independent of that involuntary mating urge. Pleasure-seeking is still a natural biological urge, just not only an element of the procreative-behavioral “set” of behaviors. As such pleasure-seeking has much to recommend it and helps drive human progress to the extent that it’s mentioned in the Declaration of Independence ( “pursuit of happiness” ) and in a less specific way in the Preamble to the Constitution ( secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity—I think that about “covers it ” ). So pleasure-seeking in and of itself is well recognized by our founders in this nation as an important aspect of the state of being fully-human.

    So what we’re really doing with allowing the procreative act with no worries of over-procreation ( as perceived by many of the more thoughtful members of our society since the times of Malthus ) is limiting the conservation of the genes of our more thoughtful/informed(disinformed counts–it’s the thought that counts )/responsible members while the irresponsible twits just jam it in, get it off and devil-take-the-offspring-that-may-occur.

    I think the results of this process are manifest all around us everywhere we look in our society now. We water and fertilize our “garden of life” before weeding it and that’s not the prescription for an orderly productive society. Almost nothing I pay someone to do for me now is ever done correctly. Standards are lowered. A nation that once put human footprints on the moon now can’t even build a space telescope and make sure the primary mirror was properly “figured” before inserting it into orbit and can’t even maintain a low-orbit do-nothing manned space-program “marker chit” anymore. Our municipalities and large corporations are mismanaged to the extent they
    “had to be” (???? ) bailed-out by the government with government intrusion into the management of same. We can’t even wipe out a pernicious religious-fanatic-based terrorist movement that threatens world peace when after decades of the “Cold War” we really ought to be enjoying our “peace dividends”. Programs begun decades ago as canards to counteract CCCP anti-U.S. propaganda have been allowed to spin out-of-control and take on a life of their own long after their purpose was over and to threaten the very integrity of our national culture and our international prestige.

    Well, that’s what happens when you tell those inclined to be responsible that it’s “irresponsible” to have a large family—and then give them a powerful tool in the pursuit of that end—- while those for whom responsibility is like something out of a dead language nobody speaks anymore will father out-of-wedlock bastard after out-of-wedlock bastard with no concern or care for what’s going to happen to the offspring or what their impact will be on posterity. So effectively you’ve switched a natural process that used to militate for the conservation of the genes of the responsibly-inclined people who are more likely to be successes to a process for the conservation of the worst people’s genes.

    I don’t know if that’s the concept which secretly drives your faith’s obstinate refusal to accept contraception or not. If one leader can go against the hundreds-of-years-observed acceptance of the death penalty ( supposedly ) on the basis of personal distaste for seeing anyone put to death then I suppose it’s possible to set up expert commissions with loaded membership designed to achieve a certain end and then when they refuse to oblige to remain steadfast to a principle which really has a lot more to do with whether you want human progress to continue than it does with whatever conclusion is drawn by your latest gold-plated panel of experts on what is or is not scripturally-acceptable.

    That’s MY story and I’m sticking to it—and I used to be a volunteer for Planned Parenthood through NARAL. Even now every day as I look out my door at what roams the streets of ferguscum these days I can see that what we really need are more abortions and more free condoms, birth control pills and other means of having our carnal needs met without procreating. The problem is you cannot, in a free society like this, have any top-down logic-driven selection process for who will and who will not be encouraged most strongly to employ contraception. If you thought you saw riots last summer try that and see what happens. The entire nation would be in flames.

    I still believe in the importance of allowing people to be the masters of their own fate and to make their own decisions but in this case it’s one of those things where there is an overweaning reason having to do with the survival of a national culture which has brought many good things to the world and of a traditional human behavior which has driven human progress which “trumps” the good concept of allowing as much personal freedom as possible. I know–that sounds like “giving up liberties to gain security and having/deserving neither” but in this case the right to engage in procreative activity with no worries of procreation is *not* an innate human right. Humans are not naturally constituted to allow this. It’s a human-created artificial “rider” on the Bill of Rights. It threatens to destroy a natural process which has many positive benefits and is ( I’m afraid ) just as perverted as kid-diddling and probably in the long-run far far more destructive.

    I’m 62 years old. I’ve seen the advent of convenient methods of contraception and many other radical changes to our way-of-life and I’ve seen the aftermath of these things being allowed and believe me I’m not liking what I see as the busy-bodies rearrange the deck chairs on our national Titanic-of-State as she slowly circles the drain of historical ignominy.

    Comment by James Stenzel — May 5, 2015 @ 12:47 pm

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About author

After graduating from Holy Cross, Bill Borst earned an MA in Asian History from St. John's University and a Ph.D in American History from St. Louis University. (1972) A former New Yorker, he taught for many years in the St. Louis area, while also hosting a weekly radio show on WGNU from 1984-2006. He currently is a regular substitute for conservative Phyllis Schlafly on KSIV radio. (1320) He is the author of two books on social history, "Liberalism: Fatal Consequences," and "The Scorpion and the Frog: A Natural Conspiracy." He just retired as the Features editor of the Mindszenty Foundation Monthly Report. In his 11 years from 2003-2013 he wrote nearly 130 essays on Catholic culture and world affairs. Many in St. Louis also know him as the "Baseball Professor," because of a course that he offered at Maryville College from 1973-74. It was arguably the first fully-accredited baseball history course in the Midwest.The author of several short books on the old St. Louis Browns, he started the St. Louis Browns Historical Society in 1984. In 2009 his first two plays were produced on the local stage. "The Last Memory of an Ol' Brownie Fan," ran six performances at the Sound Stage in Crestwood and "A Perfect Choice" ran for two performances at the Rigali Center Theater in Shrewsberry. His third play, "A Moment of Grace," ran six performances at DeSmet High School in January of 2011with First Run Theater in January of 2011. He is currently working on a 4th play, "A Family Way," which is a comedy about a happy dysfunctional family. He can reached at







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