The Intrinsic Evil of Contraception

On the right is Pope Paul VI. On the left is then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, later Pope St. John Paul II. He was influential in the publishing of Humanae Vitae, and later expanded on its teachings with his Theology of the Body.

I. A hard no.

Two weeks ago was the fiftieth anniversary of a papal document epic for its unrivaled unpopularity. On July 25, 1968, Pope Paul VI published Humanae Vitae, an encyclical outlining the Church’s position on contraception. Many a hankering ear had been hoping the good pope would dissent from nineteen hundred years of consensus on the subject, but he stood fast, upholding the Church’s teaching that contraception is morally wrong.

According to many people, including many Protestants, the Church’s hard “no” on contraception is little more than pharisaical nitpicking. Even in the darkness and privacy of your own bedroom, there looms Mother Church wagging her stern and unyielding finger!

And indeed, it is a hard “no.” According to Catholic teaching, the use of contraception is a sin – always. The Catechism refers to it as “intrinsically evil,” which means that it is evil in and of itself and can never be justified, no matter the circumstances. There are no grey areas and no exceptions for anyone at any time, period. The fact that the Church calls it an intrinsic evil doesn’t mean it’s as equally wicked as something like abortion, rape, or torture – other examples of intrinsic evils. Rather, it means that it’s equally forbidden to everyone in all places at all times.

What many people don’t know, however, is why. Why, when there is so much worldly pressure to change, does the Church hold fast to this teaching? Why, long after even the rest of Christianity has left the room, does she stay where she is?

II. The Bible’s apparent silence on contraception.

You’ll often hear Protestants claiming that because the Bible doesn’t forbid contraception, neither should we. It’s true that the Bible says little to nothing about contraception, and nowhere does it directly forbid it the way it forbids drunkenness, murder, and adultery, for example.

But the Bible doesn’t directly forbid abortion, either – or slavery, for that matter. In fact, regarding the latter, the Old Testament gives instructions on its right use, and the New Testament shows us what a godly master/slave relationship ought to look like. If that were contraception, Protestants would consider the Bible blatantly in favour of using it; and yet they denounce slavery in no uncertain terms.

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The Sin of Becoming Catholic


You get to correspond with a lot of people when you publicly promote Catholicism on your once-Reformed blog. Some are curious, some are even sympathetic, and some demand that you repent of your Catholicism and return to being Reformed.

That last view isn’t uncommon in Reformed circles. Reformed people who become Catholic are not only bound to encounter it, but in many cases once thought exactly the same way themselves. The Catholic Church is apostate, antichristian; she teaches a false gospel; she needs to repent for rejecting doctrines like sola fide and sola scriptura, and so on. If that’s true of the Catholic Church, it’s exponentially more true for people raised in the Reformed faith who leave it for Rome.

James White

As an example of this, I’ve included here a passage from Reformed apologist, James White. It’s from a blog post a few years old called, “A Case Study in Apostasy.” He’s responding in that post to a friend of his who became Catholic, a friend who wasn’t happy with an earlier harsh response from White. Whether White was too harsh is neither here nor there. The reason I’ve included this passage is because it’s representative of the way many Reformed people think of the Catholic Church.

I’ve also included it because the accusations it contains cannot be true, at least not if sola scriptura is true. Accusations like these actually show the truth of Catholic teaching, for they show that the truth of God is not, and cannot be, found in Scripture alone. Here’s the passage:

In any case, I do not coddle those who throw the gospel of Jesus Christ under the bus so that they can feel warm and cozy on the far side of the Tiber River. Especially if someone has stood behind the sacred desk and preached the gospel of peace based upon the singular accomplishment of Jesus Christ from the sole inspired revelation of truth we possess in Scripture—such a person is guilty of such an outstanding act of hubris and rebellion that I only have one message for him/her: God’s wrath abides upon you, repent, flee, confess, cry out for forgiveness before it is too late. God will cause those who refuse to love the truth to love a lie, and once you love it, once it is firmly set up as the idol to which you give full allegiance, there is little hope indeed of your rescue. When I speak to unbelievers who have never even known the truth, I must patiently and graciously bring them that good news, seeking, repeatedly, to overcome barriers of misunderstanding and tradition. But the apostate is one who has already possessed and professed that truth—my testimony to them must be clear, and concise.

According to White, a Reformed person who becomes Catholic has “thrown the gospel under the bus;” is “guilty of an outstanding act of hubris and rebellion;” has “refused to love the truth;” has “little hope of rescue;” and is an “apostate.”

But there’s a rhetorical sleight-of-hand at work here. You can see it by looking at what exactly the Reformed person “throws under the bus” in becoming Catholic. Is it Scripture that he throws under the bus? No. Is it Scripture that he refuses to love? No. The inspiration and authority of Scripture were Catholic doctrines long before the Reformers showed up. Reformed people who become Catholic don’t stop believing anything that Scripture says.

They don’t stop believing that a person “is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Ro.3:28). They don’t stop believing that “a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. . . because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Ga.2:16). They don’t stop believing that “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ro.5:1). They don’t stop believing that “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ep.2:8). They don’t stop believing a single word that God has spoken.
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On Denying the Gospel for the Sake of God’s Glory

In Reformed theology, there are five “solas,” sometimes called the five pillars of the Reformation. They are sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solo Christo, and soli deo gloria – by Scripture alone, by faith alone, by grace alone, by Christ alone, and to the glory of God alone. These slogans contain in peppercorn form what the Reformed hold are the necessary corrections to Catholic teaching. They are what give meaning to the word “Reformed.”

In the world of Catholic and Reformed dialogue, sola scriptura probably receives the most attention, with sola fide a close second. But soli deo gloria is no less worthy of attention, as there’s an assumption underlying it that puts much of the “protest” in Protestant. On his blog, Dr. Wes Bredenhof gives the following explanation:

Soli Deo Gloria — to God alone be the glory. Rome taught that God ought to be praised for salvation. However, they included good works in the basis of salvation. They gave a place to Mary and the saints alongside Christ as the Redeemer. Human beings had to cooperate with God’s grace for justification and salvation. The inevitable conclusion is that God gets praise, but so do human beings. The Reformation objected. The Reformation upheld the biblical teaching of Psalm 115:1, “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory..” All the credit, all the glory, all the praise, goes to God for our salvation.

The assumption I’m referring to is the belief that if man plays a role in his salvation, which the Catholic Church certainly teaches, then “the inevitable conclusion is that God gets praise, but so do human beings.” What’s assumed here is that if we include a human role in salvation, we necessarily exclude God. Even if man’s role is only 1%, God’s role is necessarily reduced to 99%. If we want God to be properly glorified, then man must necessarily be excluded from being responsible for salvation.

But consider further what’s being assumed here. What’s being assumed, even for Christians, is a fundamental opposition between God and man, where what is my good work is not God’s good work. My good works and my cooperation with grace are mine, not God’s, since, the assumption goes, the Catholic Church robs God of glory by including a Christian’s good works in salvation. The good works of the saints are theirs, not God’s, since the Catholic Church robs God of glory by including those works in the salvation of others. If including a human role in salvation robs God of glory, then that human role must not itself be God’s work. If it were God’s work, then, of course, it wouldn’t be robbing God of glory to include it in salvation.

What’s assumed is an either/or way of thinking wherein either God is doing the work, or I am. Either God is responsible for my salvation, or I am. Thus, to properly glorify God, we must say that God is responsible for salvation, not man.

It’s certainly true that apart from grace, man is only ever doomed to compete with God for glory. Apart from grace, there remains a fundamental opposition between God and man, an enmity born of man’s pride. Apart from grace, man’s work is man’s work and God’s work is God’s work, and ne’er the twain shall meet. That’s true, so long as we exclude grace from the picture.

The rest can be read over at Called to Communion.

That’s Not in the Bible!

Peter preaching the gospel in the catacombs – Jan Styka


There’s one Reformed critique of the Catholic Church that is the mother of all other critiques. It has come to my wife and I in the form of, “I don’t understand how you could believe things not found in the Bible,” or, “There’s no evidence for this or that Catholic doctrine or practice in the Bible,” or, “By teaching things not found in the Bible, the Catholic Church teaches human inventions,” and so on. For many Protestants, this is the trump card that renders Catholic teaching out of the question.

But those playing the trump card haven’t looked closely enough at it. For the card itself poses a fatal problem for Protestants, a problem very much like that faced by modern materialists – people who believe that physical matter is all that exists. Materialists will use logic to deny the existence of logic, and will insist that their denial of truth is true and their denial of morality good. The very thing they denounce is the thing they use to denounce others. So, too, Protestants will denounce the Catholic Church for doctrines that can’t be proven from the Bible alone; but they do so by means of doctrines that can’t be proven from the Bible alone.


To demonstrate this, let’s start at the bottom, with Scripture itself. Article four of the Reformed Belgic Confession begins with the words, “We believe,” and goes on to list the sixty-six books that Protestants believe make up the Bible.

But this belief cannot be proven from Scripture alone. The Apostles did not write down a list of books to be accepted as canonical, nor did they provide criteria by which to do so. In fact, even if such a list was found in the Bible, we would require something other than Scripture to prove that the book it belonged to was itself Scripture.

For example, in 2 Peter 3:15-16, Peter refers to Paul’s letters as Scripture. Someone might say that this proves from the Bible that Paul’s letters are Scripture. But that’s only true if 2 Peter itself is Scripture. And if we are going to believe that 2 Peter is Scripture, then we must establish that belief, too, from the Bible alone. But whatever book we would appeal to for evidence would itself have to be shown from the Bible alone to be Scripture. And we would find ourselves jumping from book to book to book until we have no Bible left at all.

For that reason, the Belgic Confession doesn’t appeal to Scripture in support of article 4. Rather, it appeals to the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. Other Protestants will appeal to the testimony of history, making arguments from the evidence of the early Church. But the testimony of history and the internal testimony of the Spirit are not the written testimony of Scripture. The fact remains that Protestants hold to a belief that cannot be proven from Scripture alone, the very thing they denounce the Catholic Church for.

Or, along the lines of a question Christ put to His accusers, Catholics can ask Reformed people: does the doctrine confessed in article 4 of the Belgic Confession come from men or from God? If the answer is “from God,” then the Reformed must admit the existence of divinely revealed truths found outside the Bible. If the canon of Scripture has been divinely revealed, but isn’t in the Bible, then it must have been revealed elsewhere. Or, if the answer is “from men,” then they must admit putting their faith in a human opinion also not found in the Bible. Either way, they are trumped by their own trump card. They are holding to a belief that cannot be proven from the Bible alone.


But more to the point, the trump card itself cannot be proven from Scripture. And when I say “cannot be proven,” I don’t mean that it isn’t explicit in Scripture, in the way that the Trinity isn’t explicit, or the two natures of Christ isn’t explicit. What I mean is that it simply isn’t there. The Apostles did not tell us anywhere that we should believe only what can be proven from their writings alone.
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King David’s Clean-Heart Gospel Passion

What does it mean to be saved? The answer to that question drove the Reformers away from the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century, and continues to keep Reformed people away today. I received an email from a Reformed person sympathetic to key parts of the Catholic faith, but who said that the Reformed doctrine of justification was “too powerful” for him to become Catholic.

Here I want to present a simple, scriptural argument against the Reformed position. I’ll first briefly summarize the Reformed and Catholic answers to what it means to be saved. Then I’ll compare the two answers by looking at how salvation is described in the Psalms. What kind of good news did the Holy Spirit inspire King David to yearn for in his writings? Did David yearn for the good news as described in Reformed teaching, or for the good news as described in Catholic teaching?

Read the rest of the post over at Called to Communion:



Don’t Let Your Hatred of the Catholic Church Be Greater Than Your Love for Christ

The martyrdom of Saint Margaret Clitherow, March 25, 1586.

A reader writes,

It sends shivers down my spine to contemplate the sheer wickedness of you uniting with those who persecuted and killed my ancestors for the good confession of their faith.

We have received similar comments from others, too, referencing the persecution Protestants experienced at the hands of Catholics. That persecution was, indeed, contemptible. I have no intention of disputing that. Wes Bredenhof recently posted a letter from the Reformer Guido de Bres to his wife on the eve of his execution by hanging. It is a powerful testimony to the sincerity of de Bres’ faith, and reading that letter as we do, from within a world where executing someone for heresy is unthinkable, it is difficult not to be incensed with those who killed him.

The problem, though, as demonstrated by the above comment, is that this standard is too often applied only one way. In Proverbs 11:1 we read, “A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight” [ESV]. That clearly has implications beyond buying and selling, and is no less instructive for our words and judgments. Do we use the same weights for all actions, or only for those that benefit our cause?

For example, John Calvin, during his ministry in Geneva, had a man named Michael Servetus executed for his beliefs. Servetus was a heretic from any Christian perspective, and considered himself a free thinker. There are many people today who would call themselves free thinkers, and who would identify with Servetus’ cause and ideas. If one of them were to convert to the Reformed faith, would my correspondent make the same appeal to his spine shivers, and comment on the “sheer wickedness” of a free thinker joining with those who once executed his ancestors for their beliefs? Of course not.

But let’s bring this closer to home. When the English crown embraced the teachings of the Reformers, the Protestant authorities set about hanging, drawing, and quartering any priests found practicing their faith. This wasn’t a quick, neck-breaking hanging like the one de Bres would have had. No, this was a slow hanging, in which the priest was strangled to death. And while he choked, his executioners would cut off his genitals, slice open his belly, and burn his intestines in front of him. After his death, they would decapitate him, chop his body into four pieces, and send the pieces to various parts of the realm to be put on display. That was the cost of being a Catholic priest in Reformed England. Is your spine shivering?
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More Work than It’s Worth?

I’ve entered into a busy season of life, having started in September a full-time position as the senior theology and religious coordinator at a Catholic high school. There is so much I’d like to write about, and hopefully will write about, especially now with the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation putting the Catholic/Protestant divide at the forefront of people’s minds. I thank my readers for their patience, and I appreciate all the correspondence that has come my way over the last year. I ask that you would continue to be patient, and take the time to study and pray about these issues. The devil hates the truth, and hates the pursuit of the truth, making it seem like it’s more work than it’s worth.

But the truth has a human Face. And in that Face we find “the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” [He.1:3], words almost too wonderful to grasp. Seeking the truth is why we were conceived and born to begin with, for seeking the truth is seeking communion with the Father through the Son. And in the light of that fact, the devil’s sniveling attempts at obscuring the truth and making it offensive are simply pathetic. Those attempts seem intimidating at first, but that is merely to disguise the fact that they are devoid of power. They are lies, opposed to the truth, and as such have no substance at all. The truth has been revealed from on high for all to know, that all may be drawn out of sin and rebellion to the glory of the Father, and that truth has a name: Jesus Christ. He is the reward for all who seek Him in faith.

It’s because of these things that I have argued here for the Catholic Faith. I believe that it’s the truth, and that when all the evidence is laid out on the table, all the arguments considered, and all the objections answered, the truth of it is overwhelming, for it is nothing other than the truth of Jesus Christ. To that end, I plan to post answers to some of the questions and objections I’ve been challenged by over the last year. Arenda had done that in her “Becoming Catholic” post, and it proved an effective way to directly address the questions Reformed people have. People have asked me about the papacy, Catholic and Protestant editions of the Bible, worship, justification by faith alone, and Mary, among other things. If you have specific questions, feel free to email me. But again, I ask your patience as I address these issues.