Contraception and Holiness. A symposium introduced by Archbishop Thomas D. Roberts. Fontana Books. 5s.

That some sort of revolution is taking place in the Roman Catholic Church must be clear to everyone by now. That it can never be the same again is certain; that it will not be changed enough is equally true. Some great causes will be won; victory in others will be at worst postponed. One can, I think, talk in these terms because what is going on now, despite protestations to the contrary from ‘official’ sources, amounts to civil war.footnote1 And it is not wholly naïve optimism to claim that history seems to be on the side of the forces of light.

The great trial of strength engaged now in the Pope’s international commission to study problems of population and birth-control is but one battle in this civil war, but it is one of very considerable importance for the Church. If the use of mechanical means of contraception is accepted by the Council, the Church will be catching up with the current practices of more and more Catholics in the advanced societies. If the assembled bishops should duck this responsibility or offer some supposed compromise, it will be condemning the Third World to death by over-population and consequent starvation and at the same time alienating an increasingly large proportion of ‘the faithful’ in the industrial nations. For in Europe, and to an even greater extent in the United States, Catholics are finding themselves trapped between the exigencies of modern society and the teachings of the Church—and with varying degrees of personal suffering ‘the faithful’ are opting for the real world.footnote2

It is for this reason that Contraception and Holiness is an important publication.

In it, a dozen honest, practising Catholics examine the social, scientific, theological and psychological assumptions of the Church’s official positional on birth control. Here is the attempt to formulate the existential definition of marriage which has been called for by the progressive forces throughout this debate. Here the marital act of sexual intercourse is placed where it surely belongs, as the fulfilment of the expression of love and union between two persons of opposite sex who strive to combine the rôles of friend, companion, lover and spouse. The writers go on to insist on the positive effects which radiate from this fulfilment in the happiness and love which are generated and transmitted to the world around.

Against the traditional teaching that the purpose of the sexual act is procreation, it is emphasized that there can be no extraneous ‘end’ imported into this act. The intention and ‘end’ in sexual intercourse is orgasm, in oneself and in his partner—it is as simple as that. That is its mysterious character, and it is important to see that the alternative concerning the ‘end’ of the sexual act: procreation or subjective satisfaction of the partners does not exist. The ‘end’ is the realization of self in the loss of self. The man becomes fully man and the woman becomes fully woman by this community.

The authors of Contraception and Holiness clearly see such a position as the necessary basis for the development of a new theology of marriage. It is a measure of the importance of this book to suggest that this is the basis for the development of a truly humanist philosophy of marriage too.