Project Canterbury

The Question of Contraceptives:
A Lecture delivered to some clergy of the Diocese of Manchester,
with a criticism of some points in the December, 1930 number of Theology, December 16th, 1930.

By H. L. Goudge,
Regius Professor of Divinity in the University of Oxford.


IT is by no wish of our own that we find ourselves considering this unpleasant subject. It has been forced upon our attention, not so much by the Lambeth Conference, as by all that we know of the practice of those around us. I cannot think that our Bishops did wrongly in seeking to give us guidance about it. It would have been easy to keep silence, and avoid the misuse and misrepresentation which have followed their words; but that did not seem to them consistent with their duty. No one, however carefully he speaks or writes, can prevent misuse or misrepresentation of his words; but, if reasonable care has been taken, the responsibility for either lies wholly upon those who are guilty of it. It is for us now to consider the question anew after respectful consideration of what the Bishops have said. It is respectful consideration which alone can be asked of us, and not blind acceptance of their teaching: their teaching neither possesses binding authority nor claims it. We shall be sorry if we have to differ from the view which they express, and maintain a different one; both by speech and by action; but this course may prove to be unavoidable.


Let us begin with a clear understanding both of the problem before us and of the limits of our difference one from another. The great outstanding evil is the widespread refusal of parenthood among all classes except the one where it is least to be desired. England, like France, is choosing the path of national suicide. Now as to this, not only all Christians, but all lovers of their country are at one. Our common duty is to awaken men's consciences in the matter; difference of opinion about subordinate questions must not be allowed to prevent our co-operation here. The chief issue is, not whether contraceptives are a legitimate way of avoiding parenthood, but whether the avoidance of parenthood is itself legitimate. Of course there may be exceptions, as we shall see; but the normal duty of married people is fruitfulness. There is such a thing as a vocation to a celibate life, but no such thing as a vocation to a childless marriage. We have to preach, not only the beauty and glory of fatherhood and motherhood, but the duty of it. If there is anything more to be detested than contraceptives, it is the selfishness and cowardice which generally lead to their use. If they are employed as they are to-day, does not the blame lie in part at our own door? Have we spoken about marriage and parenthood as we ought to have spoken, and given adequate instruction to our people about them? That a subject is one about which it is difficult to speak is an excellent reason for taking the greatest pains to find the truest thoughts and the best words, but no excuse whatever for silence.

On the main issue, then, all Christians are at one; the Bishops have spoken to us admirably about it, and shown us how ourselves to speak. Though we may differ upon subordinate points, we are all, I hope, separated by a deep chasm from the cowards and sensualists who are unworthy of the name of married people. The points, however, upon which we are not all agreed, are of importance. Though we all agree that fruitfulness is the normal duty of married people, and that it is therefore normally wrong to avoid parenthood by any means whatsoever, circumstances may arise which justify, or even render obligatory, the limitation of the family. For a wife to bear another child may involve so great a danger to her health, or to her very life, that the risk ought not to be run; the husband or wife may prove to be suffering from heritable disease; or the husband may be so weakened in health as to have no reasonable prospect of being able to work for his family. In these cases, and in others that we can imagine, is the use of contraceptives necessarily and always wrong? Several views are here possible. First, there is the view which the Church seems always to have taken, that their use always involves very serious sin. Secondly, there is the view, probably held by the majority of Anglican Bishops, that, when the limitation of the family is a duty, the best course morally is for husband and wife to live as brother and sister; but that there are cases where contraceptives are justifiable. Among these who hold this view there is no doubt disagreement as to what these cases are, and whether they are many or few. Thirdly, there is the view defended by Mr. Will Spens, the Master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, in the December, 1930, number of Theology, with the general agreement of Dr. Selwyn, the editor. According to this, if conception is morally undesirable--and we must emphasise the word "morally"--we cannot say that abstinence is necessarily preferable to the use of contraceptives. For some abstinence will be best. But for others, for various reasons--for the sake e.g. of bodily or mental health, and for the continuance of mutual love between husband and wife--it may be better to use contraceptives, while guarding, as we should guard in any case, against excess. These are the differences that we have to consider; and they are differences, let us say once more, among those who desire to take the highest view of marriage, and on the greatest of the issues are allies against the common foe. Controversy is here unhappily necessary, but it should be conducted with entire friendliness and goodwill. It will greatly conduce to this if we, who hold to the age-long teaching of the Church, refrain from charging our opponents with deliberate wickedness, and they refrain from charging us with traditionalism and obscurantism. All of us have blind spots in our consciences; and, if we think we detect them in the consciences of others, we should say so as freely as we should wish them to point out the blind spots in ours. All of us, again, are influenced by our traditions and by dislike of having to change our views; and, when a tradition has as much moral authority behind it as the tradition of the Church has here, we are right to be influenced by it. But we on our side do not need to be told that there are men of the highest character who do not agree with us; and they on their side, we hope, do not need to be told that there are men of the most liberal outlook who do not agree with them.

Now, before turning directly to the question before us, a distinction must be drawn which is of great practical importance: the distinction between the Christian standard and the varying standards of the world. Our present question is: What is the duty of those whom the Bishops describe as "the faithful in Christ Jesus?" To "prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God" is for those only to whom the Christian truth and grace have come. Christians must be satisfied with nothing less than the highest that they see; what the truth of God reveals to be His will the grace of God can always enable us to perform. But, as St. Paul says, it is no part of our duty to "judge them that are without." If men are not believing Christians, we must seek to make them so: we cannot say precisely what can already rightly be expected of them, since we know neither how far their consciences are enlightened, nor what they can accomplish or endure without the grace of Christ. Much was tolerated "for the hardness of men's hearts" before the Lord came, even in the nation which was then the Church of God; God, as St. Paul says, "overlooked" the times of ignorance; and we may be sure that the common Father has lost neither His pity nor His reasonableness. Thus it will not for our immediate purpose be necessary to discuss the question, whether contraception is, not only contrary to "the law of Christ," but a breach of that "law of nature" which all men know or ought to know. The conception of the "law of nature" has had a great place in ethical discussion. But our modern knowledge of the immense variety of the world's ethical standards--both in the past and in the present---generally renders it difficult to say how far the "law of nature" goes; and the matter before us affords no exception to this rule. The heathen conscience appears to have been over wide areas blind to the wickedness of infanticide and abortion; and there seem to be many in our own days who not only see nothing wrong in contraceptives, but think it their duty to teach the poor women of the slums how to use them. Moreover, there is another consideration of great importance. Those to-day who are not Christians do not as a rule regard "nature" as a friendly power to which they owe a duty. It seems to them a blind machine which cares nothing for human happiness or need. It is right for us to teach others what the Christian standards are; to some their inherent beauty and truth have an evangelizing power. But Christian standards are the standards of a redeemed people, and we cannot expect those to rise to them who are without Christian faith.

Now this distinction between the standard to be expected of "the faithful in Christ Jesus" and the standard to be expected of the world may lie at the root of the apparent inconsistency of the teaching of the Lambeth Conference. We need not greatly regard the teaching of the Committee's Report on the question before us, for the Lambeth Conference takes no responsibility for the Reports of Committees. The difficulty is to reconcile the teaching of the Encyclical Letter with that of Resolution 15. The tone of the section of the former, which deals with marriage, is high and Christian (cf. pp. 21-23); no one surely would read it except as involving an implicit condemnation of contraception for the "whole community of the Church." Thus Resolution 15, with its abandonment of the accepted Christian standard, comes like a bolt from the blue. Is the explanation to be found in the words at the bottom of p. 22: "Here we would sound a call to all who will listen"? The Bishops feel themselves in this matter not to be speaking to the Church alone, and some of them are thinking of the nation much more than of the Church. Indeed, it would probably be true to say that to many of them the distinction to be drawn between the Church and the world is not clear or seems impossible in practice. What most of them really believe is that, when an increase in the family is for moral reasons undesirable, abstinence is not only the "primary and obvious" course--that is itself too obvious to be worth saying-- but that it is the higher course morally, and therefore the only one for instructed Christians. But, speaking as they feel themselves to be, not only to instructed Christians, but to semi-Christians, and those not Christians at all, they are not prepared to condemn contraceptives in every case, or to define too exactly what reasons may justify them. The teaching of the Conference is so hesitating and ambiguous, not only because the Bishops who voted for Resolution 15 were not agreed among themselves, but because they were not clear about the audience which they were addressing.


We turn now to our own contention. It is that, as the Church has always taught, the use of contraceptives, or of any means for the prevention of conception, is an outrage against nature, and so against God; and that it is discerned to be so, not by the reason in the narrower sense of the term, but by the conscience, when the light which shines in it is not darkened. This distinction between reason and conscience is all-important; it may be well to explain it, especially since we use the word "reason" in more senses than one.

Let us consider for a moment our own nature. All of us recognize the existence and the value of goodness, truth, and beauty, though we do not all equally appreciate them, or equally recognize them in the various forms they take. Moreover, though in God goodness, truth, and beauty are doubtless one, to us they are distinct; and our appreciation of one may be strong, and that of the others weak. As a rule, we think of reason as concerned with truth, conscience as concerned with goodness, and the artistic sense as concerned with beauty; and, though in the judgments we form our nature may be active in more ways than one, we can generally distinguish questions of one kind from questions of another.

Suppose that we are discussing the question whether Francis Bacon was the real author of Shakspeare's plays. That is a question for the reason almost exclusively; and it is by the facts known to us that reason must decide. Conscience, which condemns a man who takes credit for another's work, may suggest a doubt whether Shakspeare would have consented to be a partner in the supposed deception; our literary sense may assure us that the excellence of Bacon's style is wholly different from that of Shakspeare's; but the question as a whole is one for the reason. Suppose, on the other hand, that we ask whether Leonidas and his Spartan comrades were right in giving their lives at Thermopylae, reason will here help us little, and the artistic sense not at all: it is our conscience which decides without appeal. Go tell the Spartans, thou that passest by, That here obedient to their laws we lie. No doubt reason may urge with the Irishman that "it is better to be a coward for a moment than to be dead for the rest of your life." But we shall reply that, though it may be more prudent to be a coward, it is not "better"; and the whole moral tradition of our race will be with us in saying so. We shall not, if we have any modesty, claim that our individual conscience is any more infallible than our individual reason; we shall compare our own judgment with the judgments of others. But in a moral question it is the conscience that must decide; reason against conscience has here no standing-ground.

Now the question before us to-day is primarily a moral question; even when we say that contraceptives are "filthy" and "hideous," we mean morally so; and, if we cannot claim that the moral tradition of the race here supports us as strongly as in the former case, the Christian moral tradition certainly does. If then it is said that we must not condemn contraceptives unless we can prove that they are wrong, we shall give a twofold answer. We shall say, first: "You yourself can prove them to be right just as little as we can prove them to be wrong; and, since Christian morality is positive rather than negative, asking with St. Paul, not whether a thing is 'lawful,' but whether it 'contributes to good,' your difficulty is greater than ours." But, secondly, we shall say, and with greater force, that it is just as foolish to appeal to reason to decide a question of morals as it would be to appeal to it to decide a question of artistic taste; and that our opponent, in the most literal sense of the words, does not know what he is talking about. It is, indeed, a mistake to appeal to reason here in any way which obscures the real source of the judgment we form. There are, no doubt, moral principles of wide application as well as particular moral judgments, and in some cases it is important to show by reason that a particular moral judgment is a true example of a moral principle. But the judgments of conscience are generally particular judgments, and it is not always easy to detect the moral principles which we are applying. We do not e.g. hold contraceptives to be wrong only because they are unnatural; it is much clearer to us that contraceptives are wrong than that all unnatural things are so. But the wider principle to which here appeal is made, is a moral principle, not a rational one in the narrower sense of the word, and any parade of reason in the matter tends to obscure the real character of our case. I am here much in sympathy, as will presently appear, with the general position of Roman Catholics, but I doubt whether they put their case in the wisest way.

Can then reason never affect the deliverances of conscience? That would be too much to say. Reason can affect them when they are based upon ignorance or misunderstanding of the facts; and this misfortune frequently occurs. My conscience may tell me to give money to tramps; but, if it tells me this, it is because I suppose that my benefactions are thus expended in a profitable way. Once convince me that this form of so-called charity is harmful, and my conscience will condemn what it once approved. So in the case before us. To say that we must not condemn contraceptives, unless we can produce "rational" grounds for doing so, is to talk nonsense. But it is not to talk nonsense to say that, if we knew more of physiology and psychology, our conscience would give a different decision from that which it gives now. May we put it in this way? In the city of Mansoul the appeal on moral questions from conscience to reason is unconstitutional; reason, properly instructed, will refuse to hear the case. But the appeal from conscience uninstructed to conscience instructed by a better knowledge of the facts is as constitutional as the appeal from Philip drunk to Philip sober; we must not refuse that. In the case before us conscience is the ultimate guide; and our first effort will be to lead those who differ from us to share our perception of what is right. But, having sought to do this, we must give full attention to the facts which, as they think, should lead our conscience to a different decision.

But can the perception of one man ever become the perception of another? Not unless that other has the power of sharing his perception. But if he has, and can be induced to look in the right place, he may easily come to share it. I see a ship on the horizon, and my companion declares that there is no ship. He may be shortsighted; and, if so, there is nothing to be done about it. But he may only be failing to look in the right place; and fuller explanation of what I see, and where I see it, may result in his seeing the ship more clearly than I see it myself. Now our perception that contraceptives are morally wrong is, like all perceptions, impossible completely to describe or to analyse; but it appears to be the same in all who have it. It is not a prejudice--the result of a sex taboo; indeed, it is perhaps found most clearly in Christian husbands and wives, who know by experience that the sex-relation, like all that God has made, is "very good." May I quote the words of a priest of my own diocese, the Rev. J. A. Thomas, Rector of Westcote, in his little tract The Lambeth Conference and Birth Control, published by the Faith Press. "The Church has always held that the prevention of conception is intrinsically evil. It is the perversion of a natural faculty, acting contrary to nature, a frustration of nature. By a horrible ingenuity, the faculties which our Creator has given us are so employed that the very end for which He gave them is defeated and made impossible. . . . Add to this the coarsening influence of these contrivances and frauds, the blunting of the sense of delicacy, the intrusion of what is unnatural, calculating, mechanical and artificial into our most sacred and tender intimacies, with their natural claim of poetry and spontaneity." That, we may be told, is declamation, not argument. Of course it is not argument; argument would here be out of place. But it is an excellent expression of the reaction to contraceptives, not only of our consciences, but of our sense of beauty, fitness, and decency. In Mr. Thomas's last sentence almost every substantive and adjective is an expression of feeling and perception, an attempt to help others to feel and see what he feels and sees himself; and it will presently be shown that, if the defenders of contraceptives are to save themselves from rolling down the slippery slope to which their intellectualism has led them, it is to intuitions of a similar character that they must turn. That is the perennial difficulty of the intellectualist. When he has rejected some Christian doctrine or moral conviction, which others hold on wider than intellectual grounds, he finds, when he comes to justify his own positive belief, that he must appeal to considerations of the same kind as those which he has previously rejected. If our opponents are not able to see what Mr. Thomas sees, there is nothing to be done about it. But we do not believe that this is the case. We believe them to be highminded Christian gentlemen, whose instinctive repulsion from contraceptives may be even greater than our own. But unfortunately they suppose that, though the whole Christian Church is here with them, and has felt and seen just what they feel and see, they ought to mistrust their feeling and perception because they cannot find "rational" arguments to justify them. The native hue of instinctive repulsion is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought, and, like the majority of our Bishops, they "falter" where a few years back "they firmly trod."

We will now turn to their intellectual case, and give them full opportunity, not for overbearing conscience by reason in a way contrary to the constitution of Mansoul, but for putting facts before us which may lead our conscience to reverse its decision. We owe a debt to the Master of Corpus for the fulness and clearness with which he has put his case. It rests in part upon reason; but, as we shall see, still more upon an uncritical reliance upon medical authority. It is not easy to do justice to a case in which we do not believe, but we shall try to put his argument effectively.

In the first place, it is urged that sexual intercourse between married people serves other purposes than the procreation of children. It serves for the satisfaction of a natural instinct, which may be very troublesome and bring a strong temptation to sin. It serves, as our own moral theologian, Jeremy Taylor, says, "to lighten and ease the cares and sadnesses of household affairs," and "to endear" husband and wife, the one to the other. On this ground it is argued that, because for one reason or another procreation is undesirable, it does not follow that intercourse should cease. Procreation may be prevented, while intercourse continues for the sake of the other purposes which it serves. In the second place, it is urged that there is high scientific authority for the view that the cessation of intercourse has in many cases serious consequences--mental or physical; and that thus, where procreation must be avoided, contraceptives should in such cases be employed. Of course, they are in a sense "unnatural"; but so are anaesthetics, and other medical and surgical devices for our welfare. We do not regard it as an insult to our Creator to have our appendices removed. On the contrary, we thank God for the progress in surgery which has enabled such things to be done. It is no answer to this to point to the dreadful abuse of contraceptives which takes place both within married life and outside it; for abusus non tollit usum. Alcohol is abused, but we are not all teetotallers. Cocaine is abused, but we welcome it when our teeth are to be extracted. Why should we single out one particular "fruit of science" for condemnation, while we welcome others which are equally "unnatural"? That is our opponents' case; and it is evidently sincerely urged. Have we here sufficient grounds to lead our conscience to reverse its decision?

Now, before dealing with this, it may be well to repeat what has previously been said. We are immediately concerned with what is right for Christians. A reply might be framed available for non-Christians also; and we shall indicate the lines on which it might move. But we could not hope for more than a drawn battle. The really convincing reply rests upon the Christian view of life and our belief in the resources of grace.

Let us take first the argument from reason; and it may be well, in replying to it, to quote the whole of the sentence from Jeremy Taylor which has already been quoted in part. He is speaking of marital intercourse, and he speaks of nature rather than of God that he may base his argument upon natural law. "Our best rule is, that although in this, as in eating and drinking, there is an appetite to be satisfied, which cannot be done without pleasing that desire, yet, since that desire and satisfaction were intended by nature for other ends, they should never be separate from those ends, but always joined with one or all of these ends, with a desire of children, or to avoid fornication, or to lighten and ease the cares and sadnesses of household affairs, or to endear each other; but never with a purpose, either in act or desire, to separate the sensuality"--Taylor uses the word here in no condemnatory sense--"from these ends which hallow it." Taylor's language is not entirely clear. But his meaning seems to be that not one of the ends which hallow the desire may rightly be excluded, and that one or all of them ought to be consciously before our minds. There may be something a little forced about this second rule. We eat because we are hungry, and drink because we are thirsty, and not because we are consciously preparing for the tasks of the day; and it is not good hygiene to be thinking about our digestion. What our conscience tells us to be wrong is so to eat and drink that the chief end is excluded, as when the Romans at their banquets took emetics to enable them to eat the more. So in the matter immediately before us. We need not consciously dwell upon the place of our action in the scheme of nature, but we ought not to violate that scheme; and this even one who is not a Christian may recognize, if he reverences the natural order.

We may, however, urge a further point. We cannot cut organic wholes into sections without altering the character of the sections themselves; for things are what they are by their relation to the wholes to which they belong. The colours in a picture have their values in relation to the picture as a whole; and the notes in a chord in relation to the harmony that they produce. The scenes and acts in a drama, again, cannot be judged except in relation to the drama as a whole. So the marriage union on its physical side cannot be separated from the fact that it is union with the one beloved; nor can the "endearing" of each other by husband and wife be separated from the home-life as a whole with its dower of children belonging to both. If, then, we try to put asunder what nature has joined together, the consequences may be unexpectedly serious. Wordsworth complains that "we murder to dissect," but here we murder by dissecting. Moreover, in the processes of nature there are immanent purposes, of which the agents are not aware. We find an illustration of this in Granville Barker's Waste. The play turns upon an act of adultery. The man has no affection for the woman; nothing is further from his conscious purpose than to become a father by her; and yet, when she kills his child by an unlawful operation, he is angry. Why is this? Apparently because the immanent, as contrasted with the conscious, purpose of his action was the continuance of the species, and could not be baulked without an unanticipated shock.

But all this may, as has been admitted, seem to a non-Christian fantastic and unreal. To a Christian, on the other hand, the putting asunder of what God has joined together violates his whole view of life. "Love not the world," says St. John, "neither the things that are in the world. . . . For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the vainglory of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world." St. John does not condemn either the satisfaction of natural desires, or the acquisition of property, or the enjoyment of the respect of our fellowmen; all these are ends which are legitimate, if we look beyond them, and have a higher purpose in all that we do. But, if we rest in these lower ends, as if they could be rightly sought, while the ultimate end is set aside, they are no longer legitimate. Pleasure may come by the way; God's ways are ways of pleasantness and all His paths are peace; but a Christian cannot make pleasure his ultimate object. Just as little can he make health or the fostering of wedded love his ultimate object, though these are goods of a higher kind. Always he must look beyond them, not only to the right conduct of his life as a whole, but to the final purpose, or immanent end, of the acts to which they are attached. It is when we see that the fulfilment of God's purpose is the law of the Christian life, that we see also that there is no parallel between a contraceptive and an anaesthetic, and that the unnaturalness of the one is totally different from the unnaturalness of the other. The purpose of an anaesthetic is either the better performance of a curative operation, or the avoidance of useless suffering. If any known purpose of God is thwarted by an anaesthetic, it is unlawful. Had our Lord accepted at the Cross the stupefying draught, there would have been no "Seven Words" for us. Indeed, the purpose of all sound medicine and surgery is to further the creative and restorative purpose of God. If their methods ever seem to violate nature, it is because nature itself has gone astray; the only operation parallel to a contraceptive is the "unlawful operation" which a surgeon is severely punished for performing. We must then totally reject the supposed argument from reason. It rests upon a view of the separability of human ends, which a Christian cannot accept, and upon a confusion of two different senses of the word "unnatural."

We turn now to the argument from authority: and here one who has little knowledge of science must speak with caution and reserve. But the appeal to authority is not here a strong one. There is a serious conflict of medical opinion as to the consequences of contraceptives; psychologists are at present at issue with one another as to the fundamentals of their science; and psychiatry is in its long clothes. But these facts do not give us the right to disregard scientific authority within its own sphere, and we do not propose to do so. On the contrary, we shall assume for the sake of argument that the teaching of the best authorities is as our opponents describe it: and that the use of contraceptives is sometimes better than abstinence physically and mentally. But we shall ask two questions. What is the religious outlook of the authorities upon whom we are asked to rely, and what is the character of the experience upon which their conclusions are based? It is the failure of our opponents to see the importance of these questions which is the basis of our charge that their acceptance of authority is uncritical.

With regard to the first question, the beliefs of our authorities probably differ little from those of the majority of their fellow-countrymen. There are doctors, psychologists, and psychiatrists who are Christians; but the majority are not, and have no belief in divine grace. Indeed, doctors find belief in grace peculiarly difficult, since their work leads them to concentrate their attention upon physical processes. Every form of study has moral advantages and disadvantages. The doctor, by the nobility of his work, and by the way in which he is brought into contact with suffering and sorrow, has special advantages for his spiritual life; but he is always in danger of a materialistic outlook. Moreover, even when he is a Christian, it is on the physical aspects of things that it is his business to speak; with the upholding and recuperative powers of grace he is not as a doctor concerned. That abstinence in married life may involve serious strain is undoubtedly true, and as a doctor he must say so. Whether or not the strain ought to be undergone, whether or not the divine grace can triumphantly uphold us under it, depends upon considerations with which, as a doctor, he is not concerned. Again and again, to take a parallel case, the accomplishment of our tasks involves an amount of strain which a doctor must condemn as dangerous; but our duty remains unaffected. We listen to what he says with respect, and with full belief that his judgment here is superior to our own; but we, none the less, take up our Cross and follow Christ in full confidence that His grace will be sufficient for us. A doctor who keeps to his proper business does not say that we ought to use contraceptives. He only says that, in his judgment, the strain which abstinence involves may have bad physical or mental effects. That may be a contribution to the problem before us, but it can be nothing more. Belief in the Cross, and in the grace which the Cross has won, will make the conditions of the problem different for Christians and for other men. To say this is to show no want of respect for science. The great men of science to-day are in nothing so superior to their Victorian predecessors as in the clearness of their recognition that science deals with but one aspect of reality.

With regard to the second question, the experience of our authorities has been experience of the sick, not of the whole, and for the most part of those who are not practising Christians. If then we are asked to alter our standards in deference to their experience, we should reply with a resounding No. We must discount enormously the value of what they say, when we are thinking of the duty of Christians. There are here two considerations of great importance. First, good Christians are much less tempted than others to use contraceptives, since they are much less afraid of having large families. If they are convinced that it is their duty to be fruitful and multiply, the father is not afraid of excessive toil, or the mother of the pain of childbearing: they look to the providence of God, and are not disappointed. Next to selfishness, the greatest source of the use of contraceptives is fear; and faith casts out both the one and the other. Secondly, where prolonged abstinence is the right course, the strain involved largely depends upon the place which the physical side of marriage has held in the union as a whole; and with Christians it is generally much smaller than it is with others. This is so important that it must be fully explained.

We observe then that Christians, and not only Victorian Christians, act more wisely than others in regard to sex: they talk, think, and read much less about it; and this not from prudishness, but from commonsense. Impurity is "the one sin which is conquered by flight," and Parthian tactics are adopted from the first. Preparation for battle begins in childhood, but not through the medium of premature information. Our generative powers develop slowly, and require not the least assistance in their growth; the longer that we remain unconscious of their existence the better--both physically and mentally. Children are trained from the first in habits of decency and reserve in all their physical processes; and, when they inquire about baby's apparently sudden arrival, are told the one truth relevant to their immediate duty--the truth that God has sent him, and he is to be loved accordingly. Further facts are told them in due time, the mother's very endearing share in bringing them into the world before the father's. Children rightly trained will not, as a rule, be unduly curious about these things; and, when they come across corrupt boys or girls, will sheer off instinctively. Nor will they read much more about sex than they talk, even as they grow older. Their novels will be healthy novels, not those admirably described as "erotic, neurotic, and tommy-rotic." This is a matter of the first importance, since the mental and the physical are here so closely connected. We may be readers of detective stories, and follow the details of a hundred murders, yet remain safe companions on the darkest night. But we cannot fill our minds with sex without bad results, even physically, both at the time and afterwards. Sex consciousness should be little stimulated, and our minds filled with other things. Now that is the Christian way; and, when it is followed, the facts of sex do not come prominently forward, even when we fall in love. No doubt the sex-instinct is present sub-consciously, giving warmth and glow and romance to the whole experience; but it comes little to the front, and its gratification is not one of the things to which we much look forward in our married life. On the contrary, the physical side of marriage, when we do think of it, often appears queer, embarrassing, and unwelcome; we hardly know what to make of it. That this often is so with girls is generally acknowledged, but it is so with men also who have kept themselves pure. Now the result is this. Where sex has been kept from the first in its place, it does not dominate married life; the sex-relationship is simply a part of one much fuller and richer. If then, for one reason or another, this part of the relationship has to be interrupted, though the loss is real, there is no poisoning of the relationship as a whole, nor any such serious strain as is supposed. Indeed, the relationship may grow all the deeper and tenderer by the mutual respect which the sacrifice creates. No "heroic virtue" is required; the loss is for Christians all in the day's work.

We should then strongly deprecate the "tall talk" which speaks of the sex-act as the sacrament of wedded love. When the Church speaks of marriage as a sacrament, it means two things. The first is that marriage, like baptism and ordination, conveys what in the language of theology is called "character." Just as once a priest, always a priest, so once a husband or a wife, always a husband or a wife, till death parts the one from the other. The second is that, just as in baptism and ordination, the new position conferred brings with it a promise, if we are faithful, of the special form of the grace of God needed for the performance of the duties attached to it. No doubt, we may, if we will, speak of marriage as sacramental in another sense. It has both an outer and an inner aspect, the inner unity finding its expression in the outer, and the outer, when used rightly, strengthening the inner. Of this outer aspect the physical union is a part, and it is sacramental in that sense. But it is only a part, and in a true Christian marriage nothing like the most important. The outward sacramental expression of wedded love is found, not in one, but in all the loving offices which the husband performs for the wife, the wife for the husband, both together for the children of the union, and often both together for the Church of God and their brothers and sisters in Christ. What often makes clerical marriages so specially happy and harmonious is that in them the wife is able to help the work of her husband so much more than in almost any other case. The priest and the "sister," or other lady worker, may co-operate harmoniously, though they do not always do so; but not as a Christian husband and wife can do. Thus the loss, real as it is, which comes when they do not think it right, in the interest of their common work, or for some other good reason, to have more children, is simply the loss of one element among many in a deep and varied common life, and is not necessarily more serious than the loss of some other element might be. If in general human experience it is otherwise, the reason probably is that the physical side of marriage has been allowed to fill far too great a place in the common life. The pain or strain that then follows abstinence affords no excuse for the common degradation brought about by contraceptives; indeed, contraceptives may, like excess, ruin married love by the repulsion they create. The suffering should rather be patiently accepted as a penance for what has been previously amiss, and in the assurance that God will bless it. It is quite likely that in many cases the strain may be severe. But the penances which God lays upon us are often severe; and, "though all chastening seemeth for the present to be not joyous, but grievous: yet afterwards it yieldeth peaceable fruit to them that have been exercised thereby." It is, then, clear that, though the scientific authority, upon which our opponents uncritically rely, has force when we are thinking of the present sex-conscious generation as a whole, it has scarcely any for Christians. We have given full attention to the supposed facts that were to change the deliverance of our conscience. They have not changed it; our conscience says about contraceptives exactly what it said before.


And now, before we close, we must make ourselves thoroughly unpleasant to some who on the chief issue are, as we have seen, our valued allies; and indeed to some who, we may believe, have done more for purity in themselves and others than we ourselves have ever done. But they are on a very slippery slope, and in Tennyson's phrase their "philosophy" may prove "procuress to the lords of hell." They think, we know, that their view enables them to make a better, because a more reasonable case, for purity than the view that the Church has always taken, and they insist upon their view for that reason. But they will recognise, we hope, that if we not only differ from them, but press them rather hard, this is done, not to insult them, but because we think it necessary in the interests of the cause which we all have at heart. The reductio ad horrendum, like the reductio ad absurdum, is a valuable form of argument; and we must not shirk from its use in a matter of this importance.

Our first point is this. If we take up an intellectualist position about morality, and demand "rational grounds" for our moral judgments, upon what shall we base some of the strongest of them? There are sins of which it is "a shame even to speak"; the law of Moses sentences to death those guilty of them. It treats rather lightly what we call "ordinary" immorality; but in these sins the Hebrews seem to have felt that there was some unspeakable outrage on the holiness of God. But are they in their consequences more disastrous than forms of immorality immeasurably less repulsive? If we must justify upon "rational grounds" the depth of the abhorrence which we feel, what are the "rational grounds" which we shall give? The Greeks thought little of one of these sins, though they were a highly intellectual people. We must ask our opponents for intellectual consistency. Either, as we ourselves maintain, moral judgments differ fundamentally from intellectual judgments, or they do not: we cannot build upon moral intuitions in one case, and denounce them as prejudices in another.

Our second point is this. How far will the argument for contraceptives logically carry us? Is the limitation of their use to married people logically justifiable? Let us take the case of a girl strongly tempted to sin with her betrothed lover. Her mother, let us say, dissuades her. The daughter replies: "You use contraceptives; why should not I?" "Because you are not married," says her mother, "and that makes all the difference." "Why should it?" says the daughter. "Will you give me a single argument for your own use of contraceptives which does not hold for mine? You say that the marriage act has other purposes than childbearing, and that these are sufficient to justify it in your case. It relieves a serious strain which would exist without it; it guards against the temptation to unfaithfulness by one partner to the other; it fosters and deepens love. Well! my lover and I cannot marry yet; we cannot find a house for one thing; and we could hardly manage with children yet, even if we were married. But we are together almost every day; and we find the strain unbearable. I, like you, want to keep the one whom I love faithful to me, and to foster and deepen our love. Why should not we do as you do?" What would the mother say? Perhaps Dr. Selwyn might help her. He finds the argument we are employing "truly astonishing"; he says that "the sexual impulse lies so close to the inmost springs of human personality that its exercise apart from the context of the permanent and public-social relationship of marriage is wrong," and speaks also of "an open, legal and binding moral contract consecrated by religion." But we fear that, if the revolting daughter were sufficiently intelligent to understand all this, she might be sufficiently intelligent to knock the bottom out of it. She would say: "My boy and I intend nothing less than a permanent union. But why in the world, when we are not setting up house or having children, should our union, unless we wish, be "public" or "legal?" Of course, when children may be born, the State recognition of the marriage union is of importance: the State may be called upon to enforce the duty of the father to his wife and children. But such recognition is unnecessary where there is no relationship with which the State is concerned, or the duties of which it could enforce. Again, if I were to have children, it would be my duty to provide for their being born in "lawful wedlock"; but in the present case I have no such duty to hold me back. The consecration of religion we hope to seek later on, but the essential thing is the promise of mutual faithfulness. No, my dear mother, what is right for you must be right for me. Unless the prevention of conception is wrong in itself, I see no reason to think that I shall be doing wrong in the course which I propose to take. What have 'the inmost springs of human personality,' whatever they may be, to do with it"? It would be an injustice to our opponents to say that their teaching is fatal to morality all along the line. That is not so. They have a strong case still against promiscuous immorality as destroying the very power of truly loving. But what have they to say in the case described above?

Our last point is this. If all the legitimate ends attained by intercourse are separable one from another, and we may seek any that we please apart from the rest, will our opponents explain why solitary sex-indulgence is wrong, when no more excess takes place than would take place in a rightly ordered married life? Ex hypothesi relief from the sexual urge is one of the good separable ends; what other justification can be required? Obviously it is not open to our opponents to reply that this would be degrading; they must produce "rational grounds" for holding it to be degrading. May we ask what they are?

No, it will not do: this new "philosophy of sex" is "philosophy falsely so-called." These final arguments are as shocking to the writer as to the reader, especially when he thinks of some of those against whom they are directed. Will they not "yet consider it again?" Why are these arguments so shocking? Not because they shock the reason, but because the conclusions to which they lead outrage our moral nature: our conscience revolts against every one of them. But, if the conclusions are wrong, the premises must be wrong which lead to them. The Church is right after all; we may not put asunder ends which God has joined together. And, if we think, with some timid persons of long ago, that "if the case of a man is so with his wife, it is not expedient to marry," we must leave the joy and the pain, the laughter and the tears, of home to those who are not afraid of them.

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