Tuesday, March 27, 2012

New baby pictures! Meet Adelaide Esther Millegan

Our second child was born today at 4:35pm. Her name is Adelaide Esther Millegan, was 20 inches, and weighed 8 lbs 1 oz. Below you can see me, my lovely wife, our first child Elijah, and our new baby daughter Adelaide.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Must-Read: 'Unintended Reformation' by Brad Gregory

I recently finished The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (just released in January 2012 by Belknap Press of Harvard University) by historian Brad Gregory, in which the Reformation is argued to be "the most important distant historical source for contemporary Western hyperpluralism with respect to truth claims about meaning, morality, values, priorities, and purpose." (p 369)

And I must say, what a book! As I explain in my review just posted at Called to Communion,
"Gregory’s masterpiece is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand why the world is the way it is and has the potential of becoming a landmark book of our times. In other words, if you decide to take a pass, and it later becomes big, remember that I told you so."
You can read my full review here.

And this Brad Gregory has quite impressive credentials to write this book. From his Amazon author page:
Brad S. Gregory is the Dorothy G. Griffin Associate Professor of Early Modern European History at the University of Notre Dame. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University (1996) and was a Junior Fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows (1994-96). Before joining the faculty at Notre Dame in 2003, Gregory taught at Stanford University, where he received early tenure in 2001. Gregory has two degrees in philosophy as well, both earned at the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium. He has received teaching awards at Stanford and Notre Dame, and in 2005 was named the inaugural winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities from the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture as the outstanding mid-career humanities scholar in the United States. Gregory's research focuses on Christianity in the Reformation era, the long-term effects of the Reformation, secularization in early modern and modern Western history, and methodology in the study of religion.
The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society is available at Amazon in hardcover ($25.20) and for Kindle ($22.68).

Monday, March 19, 2012

St Basil on the state of the 4th century Church

The Mass of St Basil by Pierre Subleyras
Below is St Basil of Caesarea's description of the Church of his time (mid 4th century) in his Letter 92. I stumbled across this while doing some research, and thought I'd share it, if only to give us perspective amidst the attacks and divisions experienced by the Church today. It's incredible how much of what he says could be applied to the world in our day. Notice especially at the end that he thinks that the only solution to schism and quarreling among Christians is the authority of the Church.
It is not only one [local] Church which is in peril, nor yet two or three which have fallen under this terrible storm. The mischief of this heresy spreads almost from the borders of Illyricum to the Thebaid. Its bad seeds were first sown by the infamous Arius; they then took deep root through the labours of many who vigorously cultivated the impiety between his time and ours. Now they have produced their deadly fruit. The doctrines of true religion are overthrown. The laws of the Church are in confusion. 
The ambition of men, who have no fear of God, rushes into high posts, and exalted office is now publicly known as the prize of impiety. The result is, that the worse a man blasphemes, the fitter the people think him to be a bishop. Clerical dignity is a thing of the past. There is a complete lack of men shepherding the Lord's flock with knowledge. 
Ambitious men are constantly throwing away the provision for the poor on their own enjoyment and the distribution of gifts. There is no precise knowledge of canons. There is complete immunity in sinning; for when men have been placed in office by the favour of men, they are obliged to return the favour by continually showing indulgence to offenders. Just judgment is a thing of the past; and everyone walks according to his heart's desire. Vice knows no bounds; the people know no restraint. 
Men in authority are afraid to speak, for those who have reached power by human interest are the slaves of those to whom they owe their advancement. And now the very vindication of orthodoxy is looked upon in some quarters as an opportunity for mutual attack; and men conceal their private ill-will and pretend that their hostility is all for the sake of the truth. Others, afraid of being convicted of disgraceful crimes, madden the people into fratricidal quarrels, that their own doings may be unnoticed in the general distress. Hence the war admits of no truce, for the doers of ill deeds are afraid of a peace, as being likely to lift the veil from their secret infamy. 
All the while unbelievers laugh; men of weak faith are shaken; faith is uncertain; souls are drenched in ignorance, because adulterators of the word imitate the truth. The mouths of true believers are dumb, while every blasphemous tongue wags free; holy things are trodden under foot; the better laity shun the churches as schools of impiety; and lift their hands in the deserts with sighs and tears to their Lord in heaven. Even you must have heard what is going on in most of our cities, how our people with wives and children and even our old men stream out before the walls, and offer their prayers in the open air, putting up with all the inconvenience of the weather with great patience, and waiting for help from the Lord. 
What lamentation can match these woes? What springs of tears are sufficient for them? While, then, some men do seem to stand, while yet a trace of the old state of things is left, before utter shipwreck comes upon the Churches, hasten to us, hasten to us now, true brothers, we implore you; on our knees we implore you, hold out a helping hand. May your brotherly bowels be moved toward us; may tears of sympathy flow; do not see, unmoved, half the empire swallowed up by error; do not let the light of the faith be put out in the place where it shone first. 
By what action you can then help matters, and how you are to show sympathy for the afflicted, you do not want to be told by us; the Holy Ghost will suggest to you. But unquestionably, if the survivors are to be saved, there is need of prompt action, and of the arrival of a considerable number of brethren, that those who visit us may complete the number of the synod, in order that they may have weight in effecting a reform, not merely from the dignity of those whose emissaries they are, but also from their own number: thus they will restore the creed drawn up by our fathers at Nicæa, proscribe the heresy, and, by bringing into agreement all who are of one mind, speak peace to the Churches. 
For the saddest thing about it all is that the sound part is divided against itself, and the troubles we are suffering are like those which once befell Jerusalem when Vespasian was besieging it. The Jews of that time were at once beset by foes without and consumed by the internal sedition of their own people. In our case, too, in addition to the open attack of the heretics, the Churches are reduced to utter helplessness by the war raging among those who are supposed to be orthodox. 
For all these reasons we do indeed desire your help, that, for the future all who confess the apostolic faith may put an end to the schisms which they have unhappily devised, and be reduced for the future to the authority of the Church; that so, once more, the body of Christ may be complete, restored to integrity with all its members. Thus we shall not only praise the blessings of others, which is all we can do now, but see our own Churches once more restored to their pristine boast of orthodoxy. For, truly, the boon given you by the Lord is fit subject for the highest congratulation, your power of discernment between the spurious and the genuine and pure, and your preaching the faith of the Fathers without any dissimulation. That faith we have received; that faith we know is stamped with the marks of the Apostles; to that faith we assent, as well as to all that was canonically and lawfully promulgated in the Synodical Letter.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Willing to Throw It All Out

Martin Luther
What happens if you find yourself understanding the Scriptures in important ways differently than most other Christians, not only today but throughout history? This was the situation in which the Protestant Reformers found themselves in the 16th century (and the situation in which Protestants today continue to find themselves). How did the Protestant Reformers respond?

Martin Luther, Disputatio inter Ioannem Eccium et Martinum Lutherum (1519) [as quoted in  Unintended Reformation, p 96]
Even if Augustine and all the Fathers were to see in Peter the Rock of the church, I will nevertheless oppose them - even as an isolated individual - supported by the authority of Paul and therefore by divine law.
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 2.5.17 (1559)
But if they would attend in sober earnest to the subject there handled by Paul, they would not so rashly pervert his meaning. I am aware they can quote Origen and Jerome in support of this exposition. To these I might, in my turn, oppose Augustine. But it is of no consequence what they thought, if it is clear what Paul meant.
Huldrych Zwingli, Von dem Touff, vom Widertouff und vom Kindertouff (1525) [as quoted in Unintended Reformation, p 90]
I can conclude nothing else but that all the doctors have greatly erred from the time of the apostles... Therefore we want to see what baptism actually is, at many points indeed taking a different path against that which ancient, more recent, and contemporary authors have taken, not according to our own whim but rather according to God's word.
Unfortunately, rather than acknowledge their own finitude and show humility to the Church's hard-won tradition of 1500 years, they did what all heretics in history have done: they doubled down on their own ability to interpret Scripture better than all others before them. They equated their own interpretation of Scripture with 'what Scripture clearly says', seemingly unaware that they too were interpreting Scripture, and were willing to throw out the entire tradition of the Church if and when it conflicted with their own interpretations. Of course, Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin not only disagreed with much of the historic, Catholic interpretation of Scripture, they also disagreed with each others' interpretations of Scripture. Thus the thousands upon thousands of contradicting Protestant denominations.

Compare their attitude with that of St Vincent of Lérins in his 5th century writing Commonitory (2.4-6), which well represents the Catholic attitude from the 1st century to the present:
I have often then inquired earnestly and attentively of very many men eminent for sanctity and learning, how and by what sure and so to speak universal rule I may be able to distinguish the truth of Catholic faith from the falsehood of heretical pravity; and I have always, and in almost every instance, received an answer to this effect: That whether I or any one else should wish to detect the frauds and avoid the snares of heretics as they rise, and to continue sound and complete in the Catholic faith, we must, the Lord helping, fortify our own belief in two ways; first, by the authority of the Divine Law, and then, by the Tradition of the Catholic Church. 
But here some one perhaps will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church's interpretation? For this reason—because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation. 
Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense Catholic, which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors.

Women's voices you don't hear in the mainstream media

First off, if you're a woman, here's an online letter you can sign to show that you are against the HHS mandates entitled: "Open Letter to President Obama, Secretary Sebelius, and Members of Congress: Don't Claim to Speak for All Women".

The video below: "On February 27th, 2012, the Catholic Information Center in Washington DC hosted a panel discussion, wherein five women with varied backgrounds argued against the Health and Human Services mandate that would require Catholic institutions to provide contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortifacients in their health insurance policies."

Monday, March 12, 2012

Birth control is moral (but not all methods)

Related to the HHS mandates controversy, I have seen a lot of reporting that has said that the Catholic Church objects to birth control because the Church objects to contraception. First, it is simply false that the Church is opposed to birth control. Second, and it may come as a surprise to some, but contraception is not the only method of birth control, and therefore the two are not interchangeable.

The Catholic Church teaches that it can be moral for married couples to engage in birth control:

CCC 2368: "A particular aspect of [marital] responsibility concerns the regulation of procreation. For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children."

CCC 2399: "The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood."

According to the natural law, procreation is indeed one of the ends to which marriage (CCC 2366), and the sexual expression thereof, is ordered; and large families are valued as "a sign of God's blessing and the parents' generosity" (CCC 2373); but it can be just and moral - according to reasons "arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances" (HV 16) - for a couple to intentionally regulate the timing and number of children they have.

So to be clear, it is not the Catholic position that married couples are morally required to have as many children as they possibly can, that all women have to be pregnant during all of their reproductive years, or even that couples cannot intentionally regulate time and number of children that they have. On the contrary, the Church teaches that "for just reasons spouses may wish to space the births of their children" and that "the regulation of birth represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood", as well as that women and men can choose to forgo marriage and therefore forgo sexual intercourse and procreation all together. (CCC 2368CCC 2399)

Thus, rhetoric that claims that the Catholic Church is against birth control, that the Church just wants all women to always be pregnant no matter what, or that the Catholic Church wants to take away a woman's right to regulate her own fertility is simply false.

So then, aside from sustained misrepresentation in mainstream media and culture of the actual teachings of the largest religion in the world despite the fact that the Church's teachings are publicly and easily accessible in an organized and systematic form, what's all the fuss about?

The Church holds that good or noble goals cannot make permissible what are otherwise bad or immoral methods. In other words, the ends don't justify the means.

The Church has no problem with people regulating their fertility, but she does hold that the means used to regulate fertility themselves must also be moral.

The term "birth control" is somewhat of a vague term. There are a number of very different ways that a woman can avoid giving birth to a child, including:
  • Abortion: engaging in sexual intercourse at any time, but intentionally killing the child that is conceived before he/she is born
  • Sterilization: engaging in sexual intercourse at any time after having had a surgery that intentionally damages her reproductive organs (or those of her male partner) to make conception of a child unlikely or impossible
  • Contraception: engaging in sexual intercourse at any time, but only under conditions created by devices, chemicals, hormones, or other means that make it unlikely that she and her male partner will conceive a new child that later could be born, even if she is fertile when they have sex
  • Abstinence/Celibacy: not engaging in sexual intercourse at all and thereby precluding any possibility of conceiving a new child that later could be born
  • Natural Family Planning: engaging in sexual intercourse, but only when she thinks she's infertile, thereby making it unlikely that she and her male partner will conceive a new child that later could be born
As one can readily see, contraception is only one of at least five different ways of practicing birth control. Birth control does not equal contraception.

So then what does the Church think of these various methods? The Church evaluates them not as singular issues compartmentalized from the rest of life, or only from their perceived final utility; she instead evaluates them objectively based on foundational moral principles and the sound use of reason.

Our Lady of the Sign
The intentional killing of innocent human beings is always wrong, and since direct abortion is the intentional killing of an innocent human life, direct abortion is ruled out. (see my Pro-Life tab)

Intentional mutilation of one's body, without any medical necessity, is wrong, and so intentional sterilization is also precluded.

The conjugal act has two natural purposes: the unity of the couple and the procreation of children. Contraception disrupts both: although contraception is most directly aimed at thwarting the natural procreative aspect of sex, the only possible way of accomplishing that is to employ means that prevent one or both of the partners from fully giving themselves as male or as female to their partner. So, because contraception disrupts the natural purposes of sex (that are true of sex prior to any discussion of the permissiveness of contraception), contraception is a misuse of sex and is thereby impermissible. Bl John Paul II explains:
[T]he innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality. (Familiaris Consortio, 32)
(For more on the Church's teaching regarding contraception see Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan, Humanae Vitae, or Familiaris Consortio.)

That leaves both abstinence/celibacy and natural family planning, both of which are moral means of regulating births.

Temporary abstinence (with the plan of eventually engaging in sexual intercourse) or life-long celibacy are both not only morally permissible (no one is morally required to have sex), but morally praise worthy (1 Cor 7). Both are a real option that is sadly often dismissed out of hand by most today; many actually consider the idea of not having sex for a long time, especially a life time, to be absurd or even unhealthy.

It's not as though the Church offers this as a legitimate option without any credibility: most of the same clergymen that give this teaching have themselves taken vows of celibacy, along with thousands of monks nuns/religious sisters throughout the world and throughout history. And of course, the pre-eminent model of a person living a celibate life is Jesus himself (followed in second place, ironically, by his own mother, and perhaps also even his step-father).

If a person does not think that it is God's will for their life to have any children at all in their life, they should consider the celibate life. And since sex is an expression of marriage, if an unmarried person plans on eventually getting married and having children, they should abstain as long as they are unmarried.

So far, we have reviewed three means of birth control that permit a couple to have sex while controlling births - but that are morally impermissible as means - and one method that involves having no sex at all (or not for a while). Is there no middle ground?

Yes, there is! This final method permits a married couple to have sex but regulate births, and does so without killing children, permanently mutilating anyone's body, or disrupting the natural purposes of sex, and its name calls it exactly what it is: natural family planning.

The idea behind natural family planning is fairly simple:
A married couple is free to have sex or not whenever they choose, and a woman is only fertile for a few days each month. If they wish to avoid conceiving a child at the present time for a just reason, they should simply not have sex when the woman is fertile (or just prior since semen can survive for a few days inside the woman).

The trick, of course, is knowing what days to have sex or not. A couple can certainly try to make their best guess, or abstain for large swaths of each month, but neither is necessary today since various methods have been developed that can help a couple know what days to have sex or not when they are trying to avoid conceiving a child (for a relatively new, highly effective method, I've heard/read praise of the Creighton Model Fertility Care System).

Natural family planning is morally permissible because it is not the intentional killing of a child (abortion), the intentional mutilation of one's body for no medical reason (sterilization), and it does not contravene the natural purposes of any individual sex act (contraception); instead, when one uses natural family planning to regulate births, one is respecting the natural order of one's body (and one's partner's body) and simply employing one's sexuality with care, reason, and control.

The Church witnesses to the principle that how we do things matters just as much as our ends. We cannot misuse a noble goal (regulating births) as a cover for any and every means to that end. Instead, the Church carefully applies general moral principles of the natural law that are accessible to everybody to distinguish moral means from immoral means.

And as we can see, the Church is not against birth control, only certain means of birth control; and regarding those means that are in line with the natural moral law, the Church offers full support.