For comparative purposes, I’ve utilized Protestant Church of Christ minister Steve Rudd’s work found on his popular propaganda website bible.ca for much of this essay. (link in endnote, as of March 30, 2017)
3. “Birth Control”
4. Celibacy Is “Satanic Doctrine”
6. “Annulment Is Divorce”
Closing Remarks and a Foundational Protestant Assumption
Fundamentalism is a wing, so to speak, of Evangelicalism, which is a wing of Protestantism. Fundamentalism began as a response to liberal theology within early twentieth century American Protestantism. Fundamentalists wished to outline and mind the “fundamentals” of Christianity—fundamentals of Christianity as they understood Christianity.
Today’s Fundamentalists may not hold to every tenet outlined in The Fundamentals,1 which provides the name of the movement, but the spirit of the movement is maintained by many English-speaking Evangelical and Restorationist communities. Fundamentalism is not only a reaction to Protestant liberal theology; it maintained the already-present Protestant anti-Catholic bias. The last portion of The Fundamentals included a section titled with one of Fundamentalism’s preferred disparaging labels for Catholicism: “Romanism: Is it Christian?” Catholic Christianity, to most Fundamentalists, is an oxymoron.
But this article is not about Fundamentalism vs. Catholicism in general; it is about Fundamentalism’s attack on Catholic Christian Marriage (capitalized as a sacrament). “Fundamentalism” is a wide brush, and the word “attack” might seem unfair to many Fundamentalists, but people who are steeped in Comparative Religion and apologetics are routinely exposed to what can only be called “attacks”.
And this article is not intended to provide a thorough explanation of the Catholic Church’s beliefs about Marriage and sex: its “Theology of the Body”. My intent is to fairly present Fundamentalism’s common attacks on Catholic Marriage and sex, and show how its attacks are not always malicious in nature, but are simply misapplied zeal or unwillingness to learn about the subjects. By exposing Fundamentalism’s confusion I will present a more plausible—a more Christian—alternative.
I focus most of my Comparative Religion work on the Catholic Church and a collection of groups that call themselves the “Church of Christ” or “Churches of Christ”. There are several distinctions that separate the Protestant Church of Christ with the remainder of Protestantism, but what unites it with many other Protestant groups—with Fundamentalists—is its beliefs about Marriage and its enthusiasm to attack the Catholic Church’s beliefs. The Protestant Church of Christ pre-dates The Fundamentals by about half of a century, but it is, nonetheless, Fundamentalist.
To best present today’s Fundamentalist attack on Catholic Marriage, I will utilize what I am most familiar with: the Protestant Church of Christ’s position. Though the sect is quite different than other Protestant groups, it is perfectly indicative of Fundamentalist beliefs and rhetoric in regards to the subjects of Marriage and sex.
It is difficult to avoid argumentation that Fundamentalists would attack as straw man arguments. Fundamentalist orthodoxy (doctrine) is a fluid, elusive, dominant collection of ideas held within the minds of its most persuasive leaders; it is matter-of-factly impossible for any person to reference an authoritative Fundamentalist statement of faith. All any person can do is detect common, popular, indicative examples of an articulated belief—to find some sort of dominant consensus. Regarding Fundamentalism’s beliefs about Marriage and sex, I will utilize what seems to me a popular and influential Fundamentalist website which is often used as source material for other websites, provides material for sermons, and is accepted as “orthodox”; because as best as I can determine its material regarding Marriage and sex has not been condemned in any detectable way by other Fundamentalist groups. The website is called bible.ca, authored by Protestant Church of Christ minister Steve Rudd. In addition to freely quoting his outline as per copyright Fair Use allowances, I have written permission from Rudd to publish as long as I provide a link to his website.2 Throughout this article, Rudd’s words will be in red.
Rudd’s essay (outline) format is difficult to follow because it is poorly written. I did not choose his essay to ridicule his online efforts; his style and level are indicative of most of Fundamentalism’s public presence. Rudd’s essay is ideal for my Comparative Religion purposes, because, as a later-formed theology, he presents his apologia as a comparison to what existed before it: the Catholic Church’s theology of Marriage and sex. Rudd’s apologia is not a statement of orthodoxy; it is a statement of belief that the Catholic Church is wrong, is “satanic”. His essay is titled “The Roman Catholic view of Marriage is flawed, incomplete and destructive” [sic]. His outline lightly addresses several subjects that Protestant groups often gravitate towards when they are eager to prove the Catholic Church is not Christian, but what is beautiful about these subjects is that they are often the catalysts that push people out of Protestant sects and into the Catholic Church. In other words, when Christians study these subjects—not use them as misunderstood protestations—they discover the richness of Catholic theology, they come to love God with more of their hearts and minds. I will present Rudd’s indicative apologia with interruptions separated as short chapters to highlight Fundamentalism’s faulty reasoning and to present, in a comparative way, how the Catholic Church understands Marriage and sex.
Before I close this introduction, I want to describe my intended audience. Firstly, this book is for Catholics. There are a lot of Catholics who do not understand what the Church teaches about Marriage, and when a Fundamentalist attacks the Church’s teachings and tries to convert her to Protestantism, she may not know that the Catholic position is in fact much more reasonable, more biblical. This article should provide Catholics with the knowledge of how Fundamentalists attack Catholic Marriage and how to respond.
Secondly, this book is for Fundamentalists and other kinds of Protestants! Not all Fundamentalists are on the attack. (Fundamentalists and Fundamentalism are different things.) Protestants who are more interested in knowing what the Catholic Church teaches than what other Fundamentalists say about the Church should be able to see themselves (or, see their communities) in the Fundamentalist positions, and also come to understand that the Catholic Church’s beliefs about Marriage are thoroughly biblical, thoroughly Christian.
Fundamentalists often begin theological thought with an agenda to prove themselves right, not to learn that what they have always believed might be wrong; that is why this article is deliberately short. When many Protestants do in fact realize the Catholic Church that they have built in their minds is false, and that the real Catholic Church’s beliefs (about anything) are biblical, that seed is often blown off the hard soil of their hearts before it can take root. The soil is hardened by a laundry list of other misconceptions about the Catholic Church. I hope my Protestant readers will be able to let the information in this book take root, and not allow other misconceptions about the Catholic Church to thwart its growth. Because if the Catholic Church is right about this one subject, she just might be right about the remainder of the laundry list as well!
Christian Fundamentalism is a relatively modern Protestant movement, and it was developed within a larger Americanized construct of what Marriage ought to be. That is, Marriage and its more-Americanized (thus, more-secularized) purposes were grafted into American Fundamentalism’s newly-formed fabric.
The movement, remember, began as a reaction to liberal theology within Protestantism. However, the end synthesis of its understanding of Marriage—whether it pre-dates liberal Protestantism or not—is, in fact, a liberalized / secularized hybrid product of Christian Marriage and the pursuit of carnal satisfaction disjoined from the original procreative and unitive purposes of the Sacrament. Steve Rudd’s outline perfectly illustrates Fundamentalism’s understanding of not only its position, but also how it contrasts with Catholicism’s understanding of Marriage. Rudd begins:
A. The Pope only defines two purposes of marriage, leaving out the third in [sic] the list below:
1. Offspring: “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28) [sic]
2. Companionship: “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 2: 18) [sic]
B. The Bible has three purposes of Marriage:
1. Offspring: “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28) [sic]
2. Companionship: “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 2 18) [sic]
3. Sexual satisfaction independent of the desire for children: “because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife”, “it is better to marry than to burn with passion” 1 Corinthians 7:1-5,9 [sic]
Rudd offers no references for what the Catholic Church actually believes, and he begins with a false dichotomy: “Pope” vs. “Bible”. What Rudd meant to communicate, I believe, is the Catholic Church believes something he does not think the Bible supports. Rudd’s thesis is that the Catholic Church’s “incomplete” (as per his title) understanding of Marriage is the cause of her “flawed” and “destructive” (as per his title) beliefs. The purpose of Marriage—the purpose that Rudd and Fundamentalists believe the Catholic Church omits from her own understanding—is that God created sex for “sexual satisfaction independent of the desire for children.”
Rudd’s first argument for the Catholic Church’s “flawed, incomplete, and destructive” understanding of Marriage is titled, “Sex on demand” [sic]. Rudd continues:
I. “Sex on demand”: [sic]
The Bible teaches sex on demand by either spouse: “Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch (have sex with) [sic: content insertion] a woman. But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. … ” [sic] But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. ” 1 Corinthians 7:1-5,9 [sic] (italics Rudd’s)
What could be more clear? [sic] But the Roman Catholic view of marriage cannot allow for this great advice. In short, it is a sin for one either [sic] partner to withhold sex when requested. This underscores the fact that the Roman Catholic church [sic] is wrong when they [sic] refuse to include “satisfaction of sexual appetite” as the third purpose of [sic] marriage.
Rudd’s first “proof” titled “Sex on demand” [sic] utilizes part of a single passage of Scripture, and he expects his readers to understand that his passage somehow exposes a flawed Catholic understanding. I expect most Catholics would read Rudd’s “proof” several times and never come to understand what he is trying to explain, but having been a part of the Protestant Church of Christ camp (Rudd’s own Fundamentalist sect) and knowing how it engages the world, I will explain what just happened.
1) Rudd tells his audience, “XYZ.”
2) He then quotes the Bible.
3) He then re-tells his audience, “XYZ.”
4) Since he quoted the Bible, he expects his audience to believe “XYZ” is biblical.
Fundamentalism (as indicatively represented by Rudd), apparently, does not want to know if the Catholic Church believes sexual satisfaction is a purpose for Marriage (more accurately, an element or result of Marriage); it simply repeats its thesis. In other words, Rudd expects his readers to ride the inertia of his false dichotomy (“Pope” vs. “Bible”), not pay attention to the actual passage he quoted, not expect him to explain in any way what the Catholic Church teaches, and then gloss over his argument with a simple thematic imprint: “Pope” vs. “Bible”, Catholic Church vs. Bible. Intellectual endeavor does not create Fundamentalists; emotion and “Amen!”-worthy rhetoric useful for in-house sermons is what retains Fundamentalists.
But since Rudd utilized an abridged Bible passage, and since the Catholic Church wrote it, called it “Scripture” for the world to enjoy, and loves it as God-breathed, I will utilize it as well to illustrate how the Catholic Church’s understanding of Marriage is not “incomplete”, but thoroughly Christian. The full text of the passage—including the verses Rudd purposefully omitted (verses 6-8) is:
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote. It is well for a man not to touch a woman. But because of the temptation to immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not rule over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does. Do not refuse one another except perhaps by agreement for a season, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, lest Satan tempt you through lack of self-control (1 Corinthians 7:1-5).
I say this by way of concession, not of command. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do (vs. 6-8).
But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion (v. 9).
The passage that Rudd renders incomplete (while arguing that the Catholic Church has an “incomplete” understanding of the subject) clearly teaches against Fundamentalism’s position regarding clerical celibacy, which is a later subject within his same essay and this article. I will address it when Rudd argues against the Catholic Church’s preference for celibate priests, but there is another reason why Rudd and Fundamentalism omits verses 6-8 from its conscience. St. Paul is speaking of two groups of people—married and unmarried—and how they should conduct themselves within the Church. The omitted verses provide the transition. The deletion of verses 6-8 creates the impression that married people who are aflame with passion (lust) should use their spouses as self-gratifying sexual outlets.
Rudd’s purposeful deletion of the verses—the deletion of Scripture—from Fundamentalism’s “complete” understanding of Marriage is, as Rudd illustrates, what creates support for “sex on demand” within Marriage as an outlet for lust. When the full text is considered, we realize St. Paul was first addressing married people, and then unmarried people. The Bible and the Catholic Church teach that within the marital construct, each partner is not to deny the other. “Sex on demand”—the connotation that Rudd’s term communicates—is not what St. Paul was advocating as a way to manage lust; St. Paul’s words describe the one-flesh union among husband and wife where lust no longer exists; self-less love does not objectify one’s spouse for self-gratification.
In ideal Christian Marriage—in the sort of Marriage that is Catholic—there is no lust to manage; the sexual union is one of self-giving love and not self-love. The Catholic Church has so much respect for the marital act that she, in her Latin Bible, creates an image not of managed lust by “sex on demand” but with Jesus’ language and meaning of marital love. The last words of Jesus, It is finished (John 19:30), is written as, Consummatum est, “It is consummated.” The Catholic Church recognizes that Christ has lifted Marriage to “the dignity of a Sacrament” (CCC #1601)—a visible sign of grace. It is not a means of managing lust between a male and a female any more than Jesus’ sacrifice was a means of demanding anything from anybody. Within Catholic Marriage, husbands love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25).
Fundamentalism is right about one thing: the Catholic Church does not believe sex should be a recreational endeavor only—an “independent purpose of Marriage”. She does not believe lust is a vice that is released onto a spouse. She believes sex is both procreative and unitive; sexual satisfaction is not separated from its purpose. One group is historical, is Christian, is Catholic. The other group, in this case, is no different from the world.
Rudd’s second argument for the Catholic Church’s “flawed, incomplete, and destructive” understanding of Marriage is titled, “Guilt”. Rudd continues:
Rather than sex being a wonderful communion between husband and wife to fulfill the [sic] sexual desire, The [sic] Roman Catholic view, if anyone actually listened to it, would make married partners feel guilty and dirty for having sex, for the sole purpose of a “good romp in the hay”.
There is not a lot of material here—not much to respond to. I have found that Fundamentalists normally enjoy using the words “guilt” and “dirty” within their shared stereotypes of Catholics. I encourage my Protestant readers to actually “listen” to Catholics, and find out if Catholic theology describes sex as a “wonderful communion between husband and wife” or not—if Catholics believe, in any way, that “guilt” or “dirty” are words representative of the Catholic view. What the Catholic Church “says” to those who “listen” is nothing like how Fundamentalism portrays her; what she says is beautiful, is clear, and is precisely Christian. In fact, her interpretation of the Scriptures is presented in The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), and it is available for anyone who cares to “listen” to what the Catholic Church teaches.
Catholicism recognizes that Marriage is not about “a good romp in the hay”, but as a sacrament, is a grace that restores communion between man and wife into its God-intended state (cf. CCC #1605). “As a break with God, the first sin had for its first consequence the rupture of the original communion between man and woman” (CCC #1607). Their communion became disordered. What was first mutual love and attraction between man and wife—of mankind—turned into a relationship of domination and lust. Marriage, as a sacrament, re-orders our communion to where there is no lust to conquer. Marriage is a gift from God; “Without His help man and woman cannot achieve the union of their lives for which God created them ‘in the beginning’” (CCC #1608).
Our merciful God has not forsaken us, and even in our sin, He offers us the means of overcoming our “self-absorption, egoism, pursuit of one’s own pleasure” and helps us “open oneself to the other, to mutual aid and to self-giving” (CCC #1609). Marriage is grace. It helps us be who we were intended to be; not creatures that must manage a disordered sex drive, but new creations with restored dignity. The Catholic Church expresses her understanding of Marriage in the following way:
The sacrament of Matrimony signifies the union of Christ and the Church. It gives spouses the grace to love each other with the love with which Christ has loved His Church; the grace of the sacrament thus perfects the human love of the spouses, strengthens their indissoluble unity, and sanctifies them on the way to eternal life (CCC #1661).
Rudd’s third argument for the Catholic Church’s “flawed, incomplete, and destructive” understanding of Marriage is titled, “Birth Control”. Rudd continues:
III. Birth Control:
Roman Catholic church [sic] has a prohibition against birth control. Such is as [sic] anti-Biblical [sic] as it is hypocritical. This prohibition is again based upon an incomplete definition of the purpose of marriage.
Hypocritically, the Roman Catholic church [sic] actually teaches birth control is OK [sic], as long as it involves nothing artificial like condoms, pills etc. [sic] The average Roman Catholic married woman is instructed to use the rhythm method where she takes her body temperature to determine the day she ovulates. Then she avoids sex for two days before and after her ovulation day. But this is not only hypocritical double talk, [sic] since birth control is the act of having sex without the desire for children, it contradicts the entire foundation upon which the Roman Catholic church [sic] forbade birth control in the first place: There [sic] are only two purposes of marriage. Since the Pope teaches the only time you can have sex is to make children, then the only time a Catholic woman could have sex, [sic] is during her “three fertile days” of the month. The Roman Catholic position on birth control is shown to be silly and outrageous because Catholic “pew dwellers” generally ignore such man made [sic] rules from leaders, who themselves are not married. But if a Catholic did follow the teaching of the Pope, then she would use the thermometer to determine when she ovulates and have sex only during that fertile 4 [sic] day window.
I will begin with an analogy about a subject Fundamentalists might already understand as disordered—a subject they might not have a predisposition towards enjoying. Bulimia is an eating disorder in which food is consumed and then vomited. In God’s wisdom, He created food to nourish our bodies. He gave food taste, and it is pleasing to us. God designed the taste of food and the physical satisfaction it gives us when we eat it. However, bulimia is a disorder where people separate the pleasure of eating food with its primary purpose of nourishment. As it is with our approach to God’s design of food, practicing Catholics appeal to God’s design and His word for a more complete, biblical understanding of Marriage. Fundamentalism, however, insist that the Catholic Church is “unbiblical” and “hypocritical”, “silly and outrageous”.
The only occasion birth control is explicitly addressed within the biblical text is found in the book of Genesis; but I must first explain what birth control is and is not, because, apparently, most of the Protestant world is confused about the term. Sloppy vocabulary leads to sloppy theology, and an understanding of the vocabulary will illustrate, in itself, how the Catholic Church is not “hypocritical”.
The Catholic Church does not prohibit birth control as Protestantism (in this case) defines it, which is any means of avoiding conception—even abstinence. What the Catholic Church prohibits, more accurately, is artificial contraception. In His wisdom, God created natural means for family planning; and in his pursuit of lust and domination, mankind with its modern Protestant communities have developed unnatural means for sexual recreation. The Catholic Church prohibits unnatural, artificial means to thwart conception. The Protestant understanding, not the Catholic understanding, of birth control is the act of managing (controlling) the unwanted, natural consequences of the sex act. The Catholic and reasonable understanding is if there is no sex act to control, nor any potential conception to circumvent, then there is no birth control. Put differently, “control” is the managed attempt to thwart the natural order; there is no “control” when conception, by God’s design, might be impossible during certain times of a woman’s cycle. It would be as charitable as it is rare for a Protestant to address this important distinction. In short, Fundamentalism’s definition of “birth control” (as forced onto the Catholic practice of natural family planning), which means to “not have sex” is like saying, “defensive driving” is “not driving.”
Natural family planning—the Christian means of planning when to abstain from sex, in participation with God’s design, and with openness to the natural consequences of the union (there are no “accidents” in Catholic Christian Marriage)—is the method that Protestants call “hypocritical”. Is it hypocritical to prohibit artificial (contrary to God’s design) contraception, yet condone natural, God-given means of family planning? Within Catholic Marriage, Christians do not seek to thwart God’s design, nor force the marital union into one of consequence-avoiding recreation only (which is what Protestant-styled birth control is), and they do not thwart a conception that is not possible. Neither spouse denies “sex on demand” when both spouses are in agreement on how to—within God’s design—plan a family. So, there is no hypocrisy, only a more complete understanding of Marriage and of how God created human sexuality, and a desire to live within God’s natural law.
As for the Catholic Church’s “unbiblical” understanding of Marriage, Fundamentalism, in its effort to attack the Catholic Church, avoids what the Bible actually teaches about the subject. The Catholic Church, however, has a more “complete” understanding of Marriage and sex, partly because she is willing to acknowledge relevant biblical texts, which I will now address.
As I proceed, I will need to write in a bit more graphic way—a way that I, in truth, am less comfortable with. And this universal discomfort—which existed until modern times—is a sort of proof that the subject of birth control, with its adjoining spectrum of related subjects (though my Fundamentalist readers are most-likely unaware that there are related subjects), such as homosexuality and masturbation, are not of historical Christian virtue. Nonetheless, as discomforting as it is, the Bible does indeed describe the depravity of the subject(s). Before 1930, when the Anglican Church decided to allow for artificial contraception, and the remainder of Protestantism followed, the entirety of Christianity—including Protestants—was unified in its understanding of what is known as “the sin of Onan”—“Onanism”—the sin of unnatural intercourse and masturbation. The Bible reads:
But Er, Judah’s first-born, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him. Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife, and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother’s wife he spilled the semen on the ground, lest he should give offspring to his brother. And what he did was displeasing in the sight of the LORD, and he slew him also (Genesis 38:7-10).
From Fundamentalism’s modern perspective, the entirety of Christianity up until the twentieth century suffered from an anti-sex, prudish disposition. Its confusion is stemmed firstly from its anti-Catholic bias, not any examination of the Catholic stance, and certainly not tempered by any pre-twentieth century understanding of Onan’s deliberate, consequence-controlling sin.
Onan was legally bound to have relations with his brother’s widow in order to produce an heir. The Law states:
…her husband’s brother shall go in to her, and take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her (Deuteronomy 25:5).
However, Onan had the legal right to refuse relations with his brother’s widow. The penalty for refusal was not death, but public humiliation. The Bible reads:
…then his brother’s wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, and pull his sandal off his foot, and spit in his face… (Deuteronomy 25:9).
But Onan was not publically humiliated; God killed him! God slew him not for what modern Protestantism insists—for not doing something—but because of what he did: And what he did was displeasing in the sight of the LORD.
We know Onan was not killed for his refusal to produce an heir, which is what Protestantism demands, because Deuteronomy 25:9 clarifies what Onan’s punishment would have been. Onan was killed for something he did, and what Onan did was deliberately thwart a natural consequence of sex: he spilled the semen on the ground. Onan tried to separate the natural order of procreation from sex. Onan chose sexual satisfaction without the responsibility that is required to please God. God killed him for his contraceptive mentality.
Historical Christianity has always understood how the Bible’s linguistic treatment of sex can allude to whether or not an act is pleasing to God. This detail is important, because it is contrary to modern Protestantism’s exegesis of the passage—that Onan’s sin was not one of control, but that he refused to conceive an heir for his brother. Fr. Brian Harrison wrote an excellent essay on the subject titled “The Sin of Onan Revisited” (Nov. 1996) in which he proved the already-known, the already-acknowledged, the already-orthodox exegesis of the passage.3 With overwhelming examples, he illustrates how the sacred writers’ choice of language alludes to what, precisely, was the sin of Onan. His exegetical insights include the following:
If simple refusal to give legal offspring to his deceased brother were, according to Genesis 38, Onan’s only offence, it seems extremely unlikely that the text would have spelt out the crass physical details of his contraceptive act (cf. v. 9). The delicacy and modesty of devout ancient Hebrews in referring to morally upright sexual activity helps us to see this. As is well-known, Scripture always refers to licit (married) intercourse only in an oblique way: “going in to”—one’s wife, (i.e., entering her tent or bedchamber, cf. vv. 8 and 9 in the Genesis text cited above, as well as Gen. 6: 4; II Sam. 16: 22; I Chron. 23: 7) or “knowing” one’s spouse (e.g., Gen. 4: 17; Luke 1: 34). When the language becomes somewhat more explicit – “lying with” someone,—or “uncovering [his/her] nakedness”—the reference is without exception to sinful, shameful sexual acts. And apart from the verse we are considering, the Bible’s only fully explicit mention of a genital act (the voluntary emission of seed) is in a prophetical and allegorical context wherein Israel’s infidelity to Yahweh is being denounced scathingly in terms of the shameless lust of a harlot (Ez. 23: 20).
The sacred writers used delicate language to describe natural sex, and used explicit language to describe sexual acts that are detestable to God. The story of Onan, the language used to describe his detestable act, and God killing him for what he did, do not build a case for Protestantism’s desire for birth control; it is all support for the traditional, historical, Christian understanding that the use of any means to treat sex as recreation only is sinful—it is a case against Protestantism’s worldly desires.
Onan’s act (he spilled the semen on the ground) is related to other sexual sin: homosexual acts and the epitome of homosexuality’s essence, which is masturbation. Homosexual acts were punishable by death (cf. Leviticus 18:22; 20:13). As well, natural law (cf. Romans 1:26-27; 2:14) gives all mankind the knowledge that some sexual acts are against God’s will; sterilized pleasure-seeking is not congruent with the ancient precept: Be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:27-28; 9:1).
What binds Onan’s sin with homosexuality is not only their common capital punishment, but also the offense that is answered by their shared punishment. And what binds homosexuality with masturbation is their unnatural, sterile use of the genitals for pleasure in a manner that is counterproductive for their original purpose: procreative pleasure within a context of selfless love between husband and wife. The use of artificial contraception—of birth control—is closer to the self-loving acts of homosexual sex and masturbation than it is the historical Christian understanding of Marriage and sex. Birth control is a euphemism for masturbation—there just happens to be two people of the opposite sex present. In other words, it is projection for Protestants to slander Catholics who use their bodies as intended. Catholics do not believe sex is “dirty” (as Fundamentalists repeat); it is the selfish manner in which bodies are abused that practicing Catholics believe is dirty. A healthy, complete understanding of human sexuality is what Catholics strive for because God created us for happiness and holiness. Or, as the Catholic Church teaches, “…either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy” (CCC #2339).
The pleasure of sex is a gift from God, and it is most realized in the marital construct. Christian Marriage does not separate its pleasure from its purpose, and practicing Catholics use their gifts in an order that is pleasing to God. The Scriptures are a gift from God—and the Church—as well, and neither gift, explicitly nor implicitly, teaches that artificial contraception is Christian. The explicit teaching of Genesis 38, with its neighboring prohibitions on homosexual acts in Leviticus and the New Testament, offer explicit prohibitions against certain acts. Fundamentalism’s expectation for more explicit condemnation over its preference to indulge in self-sterilization, self-love intercourse, and mechanical, surgical, and chemical contraception, are as implicitly prohibited in the Scriptures as other sexual sins that it does not demand such explicit prohibition for: pornography, sado-masochism, and necrophilia; Fundamentalism’s battle for birth control is clearly not scripturally motivated.
Christian decency should go beyond—much more beyond—the world’s! Pro-life issues are not about abortion only, which Fundamentalists, thank God, are against. Pro-life issues saturate the nature of sexuality, not only its most atrocious form of birth control. Protestantism (non-Catholic Christianity at this time in history) is not as extreme as the world regarding abortion, but it overlaps the world in almost every sexual way: birth control, self-sterilization, divorce, and indulging in sexual acts for recreation only. Catholicism’s understanding of Marriage may seem “flawed” to Fundamentalists, but nobody can make an intelligent argument for its supposed “unbiblical” or “hypocritical” stance.
Rudd’s fourth argument for the Catholic Church’s “flawed, incomplete, and destructive” understanding of Marriage is titled, “Prohibition against church leaders marrying is a satanic doctrine” [sic]. Rudd continues:
IV. Prohibition against church leaders marrying is a satanic doctrine: [sic]
By ignoring what scripture [sic] says about one of the purposes of marriage being to alleviate sexual lust, the Pope has done damage to the institution of marriage. Remember, it wasn’t until about 1070 AD [sic] that Catholic priests were first officially forbidden to be married. That’s 1000 [sic] years too late to be part of Bible Christianity [sic].
In fact the Holy Spirit prophesied this apostasy: “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocateabstaining [sic] from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. ” 1 Timothy 4:1-3 [sic]
In fact the Bible specifically commands that Bishops/Elders [sic] be married: “It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must beone [sic] who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. ” 1 Timothy 3:1-7 [sic]
Rudd repeats his unsubstantiated belief that “…one of the purposes of marriage being to [sic] alleviate sexual lust.” Marriage does not “alleviate lust” within Marriage (as Rudd forced the passage to somehow mean). St. Paul prescribed Marriage as a vocation where lust is ideally no longer present. Rudd then proceeds to venture into his sect’s theory of “Apostasy”. (Not all Fundamentalists agree with Rudd’s sect that there was a “Great Apostasy”, but most utilize the theory when they need to create arguments against the Catholic Church.) His desire is to paint the Catholic Church as apostate and “satanic” because her elders cannot marry.
I will not address the entirety of Fundamentalism’s theory of Apostasy, but I will address the portion of its theory that wrongly uses a specific passage from the Bible as a proof against the Catholic Church as it relates to Marriage and celibacy. Rudd, as an indicative representative of Fundamentalism in this case, has chosen to utilize one of Fundamentalism’s most popular passages; it works, in its collective mind, as a sort of proof that the Catholic Church is apostate, and that her preference for celibate elders is satanic. Rudd presents 1 Timothy 4:1-3:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, through the pretensions of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and enjoin abstinence from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth (emphasis added).
The portion of the passage Fundamentalists believe condemns the Catholic Church is: . . . who forbid marriage and enjoin abstinence from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. And is not this part of the passage the big “gotcha”? After all, the Catholic Church forbids Marriage and foods, right? Wrong.
The seedling theologies that formed the early heresies were the subjects of St. Paul’s warning to his successor, St. Timothy. The Encratites (the “abstainers”), the Marcionites, and the Manicheans all condemned Marriages as evil; and indulging in the material pleasures of some foods and drink were forbidden as well. The heretics believed in a god who was the author of good things, and another god who was the author of evil; and the material world was intrinsically evil (a belief that is still popular in many Fundamentalist communities). St. Paul countered the heresies again in the very next verse by reminding St. Timothy that every creature of God is good. In other words, an informed Catholic is not shaken by the big gotcha, and an informed Protestant would not embarrass herself by broaching the allegation.
Unlike the early heretics who viewed all marriages as evil, the Catholic Church does not view any Marriage as evil. She views Marriage as honorable and a sacrament of divine institution. The Catholic Church does not forbid Marriage—no matter how badly Fundamentalists want to believe it. Men who have become priests were not forbidden to marry, but the Church forbids them to break their vows. Vows are voluntary, and she condemns those who break them, as St. Paul condemned vow-breakers in the very next chapter: they incur condemnation for having violated their first pledge (5:12).
And there are times when married leaders of Protestant communities convert to the ancient Church and become priests, and they remain faithful to their Marriage vows even as they enter into Holy Orders (as with St. Peter); the Church celebrates their Marriage, and as with priests who accept the discipline, she forbids people from breaking their Marriage vows. Put differently, to use the language of the passage at hand, it is a lie to describe St. Paul’s warning as an indictment against the Catholic Church.
Fundamentalism’s use of the passage against the Catholic Church’s practice of fasting is equally ill-focused, and again reveals its desire to attack the ancient Church while ignoring the fact that the New Testament itself reflects a Church that fasts. Of course the Catholic Church knows God created foods to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth, for it was the first Pope, St. Peter, who received that revelation, as St. Luke recorded in the tenth chapter of Acts, and as St. Paul reiterated in verse four of the chapter at hand. Fundamentalism’s allegation that the Catholic Church forces abstinence from foods in a manner that might represent an apostate group is not accurate—it is projection at best. Do Fundamentalist’s not fast? Do Fundamentalists not abstain from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving during times of their own selection? Is it not hypocritical to force this passage to condemn the Catholic Church and not Fundamentalist communities, which fast as well, which abstain from foods as well, and which abstain from alcohol nearly as much as the heretics that St. Paul was in fact describing?
The heretical groups that abstained from Marriage are the same heretical groups that abstained from some foods and wine. The early Church fathers wrote about the heretics and how they pretended Marriage, meats, and wine were evil. Those groups were real, and a Church that is able to entertain the reality of the Bible’s historical context is not guilty of modern myths developed by Fundamentalists who force passages to be interpreted outside of their historical contexts—forced to support their movement’s zeal to slander the Church that has lasted nearly two thousand years, and thereby slander, over the course of time, billions of their brothers and sisters.
As an indicative example of Fundamentalism’s unrestrained slander, Rudd presents his material in a way that might suggest the Catholic Church is the group that St. Paul was warning St. Timothy about; the Bible and history prove Rudd wrong. Rudd also presents his material in a way to suggest the Catholic Church’s preference for a celibate priesthood is modern; the Bible and history prove Rudd wrong, again.
Recall how Rudd purposefully omitts three crucial verses when he posits that, essentially, “Marriage alleviates lust within Marriage”? I already explained Rudd’s apparent purpose for manipulating the text, but he has a second reason to omit the verses: they present an ancient Church that is Catholic, and the honest quotation of the full text damages Fundamentalism’s wish for a less-than-ancient, apostate listener to “doctrines of demons” enemy. The portion of God’s word Rudd does not want people to read is:
I say this by way of concession, not of command. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do (1 Corinthians 7:6-8).
True, the Catholic Church did not require all priests to be celibate from the start, but the Bible is clear that celibacy is a valuable and preferable discipline and that the Church would be guided into all truth; the Church matured; she grew to be more of what she has always known—always taught. The Catholic Church, still, does not command her priests to remain celibate, but she expects her priests to keep their vows; celibacy is a discipline, not a doctrine. Both Jesus and St. Paul accepted the discipline. Are Fundamentalists willing to label both Jesus and St. Paul as apostates or satanic? Were the Christians who heeded Jesus’ warning about the destruction of the Temple and instructions to flee Jerusalem apostate (cf. Matthew 24:16-20)?4 Were those who were able to heed St. Paul’s lesson to remain unmarried so that they could better serve the Church apostate? Is it not clear that Fundamentalism’s zeal to condemn the Catholic Church has clouded its respect for the pattern the Bible clearly reflects—how Fundamentalism has apostasized itself from the nascent Church?
Rudd presents another passage written by St. Paul to prove how the Catholic Church pays attention to deceitful spirits. In Rudd’s words, which are indicative of almost all Fundamentalist leaders, “…the Bible specifically commands that Bishops/Elders [sic] be married.” But does the Bible really “specifically command” that priests should be married? Does it make sense that a priest who is not married (St. Paul) would teach his successor that priests must be married? Does it make sense for St. Paul to teach that St. Timothy must be married, yet in a different Letter teach: I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do? The text Rudd refers to is:
The saying is sure: If any one aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil; moreover he must be well thought of by outsiders, or he may fall into reproach and the snare of the devil (1 Timothy 3:1-7, emphasis added).
Responsible exegesis requires that we examine all relevant texts. One rule Catholics and most Protestants agree on is that more clear texts should shine light onto less clear texts. It is very clear that St. Paul wished for a celibate ministerial priesthood; he practiced what he preached. However, the only verses from the entire Bible that Fundamentalism uses to argue that elders must be married are not even verses, they are portions of verses, and Fundamentalism refuses to allow other relevant passages to clarify their meaning. (Titus 1:5-9 is similar to 1 Timothy 3:1-7; it too reads: husband of one wife.) Not only St. Paul, as proved by his actions and admonition in 1 Corinthians 7, but the entirety of Christian history from the first century to today has understood his words, Now a bishop must be… the husband of one wife, to mean that a bishop must not be a polygamist. Fundamentalism was born into a wider culture where polygamy was uncommon, and Fundamentalists force their cultural norms onto the context of St. Paul’s Letter. St. Paul’s words were not a “command” for all bishops to be married, as Fundamentalists insist; it separated Christian Marriage from its culture to one where Marriage is with only one wife.
The nascent Church understood that St. Paul described rules for bishops who were already married and had children, but many other bishops were not married, such as the Apostle John. He was the bishop of Ephesus and took Mary (Jesus’ mother) into his home after Jesus’ Ascension (Jesus had no blood-brothers to take her in.). Was St. John “satanic” for not marrying? Does it not make sense that a new ecclesial structure—the young Church—cannot from the start, with all of it varying starting positions, expect all of its leaders to personify an ideal discipline?
St. John the Apostle was “a eunuch for the Kingdom.” St. Matthew wrote:
For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it (Matthew 19:12).
The Gospel describes different kinds of eunuchs in order to show that there is a preferable, God-pleasing way of becoming a eunuch. Fundamentalism’s enthusiasm for self-sterilization resembles those who have been made eunuchs by men, and they are compared to those who have not undergone any surgical procedure. Those who choose celibacy for the sake of the kingdom—Catholic priests, religious brothers and sisters—are the kind of eunuchs that please God. In other words, one kind of eunuch becomes a eunuch for his or her own sexual satisfaction, and one receives his or her special gift from God. One resembles Protestantism and one resembles Catholicism.
Like St. Paul, Jesus Himself taught that celibacy for the sake of the kingdom is something that some—not all—people are able to receive. And like Jesus, St. Paul acknowledged that not all people are able to receive the calling; he called it a special gift from God (1 Corinthians 7:7). St. Paul continues:
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband (1 Corinthians 7:32-34).
It is clear, at this point, that celibacy is common in the New Testament Scriptures, yet it is uncommon in Fundamentalist communities. The Catholic Church’s celibate ministers perform their work without anxiety for worldly affairs, and those baptized in worldly affairs have a difficult time seeing the unseen. Celibacy is an eschatological sign. Celibacy points to heaven.
Later in St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says, For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven (Matthew 22:30). In heaven, Marriage is actualized, it reaches its completion. Those who are eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven see more than those of us who have not received the special gift from God. Chastity does not signify a prudish disposition. Celibate servants sacrifice what is good, not what is bad. If sex were “dirty” or something to feel “guilty” of, then it would not be a sacrifice. The accusations that Rudd and others in the non-Catholic Christian religious world make are not only wrong, they reveal how married the Protestant perspective is with the world. Is it not “dirty” to paint those who see heaven more clearly than those who are anxious about worldly affairs as “satanic”? A culture that mocks celibacy is not a Christian culture.
In sum, Catholic Christians do not bury a majority of texts (and history) to highlight a preferred, and less clear partial-verse in order to support a pre-conceived anti-this or anti-that theology. Like all maturing Christians, the Catholic Church became more of what she believes, and now expects all of her priests to be faithful to their voluntary vows and remain unmarried. But, apparently, many Protestants disagree with St. Paul, and believe that a disciplined celibate priesthood is not preferable, but the cause of scandal.
[Will hopefully be available in paperback]
There is one last popular attack that Rudd, to his credit, did not repeat in his essay: Fundamentalism’s allegation that “annulment is divorce.” I suspect Rudd knows his own sect is actually quite diverse on issues of divorce, and any accusation towards the Catholic Church brings attention to his own sect’s quiet acceptance of Divorce and multiple “marriages”. However, there are many voices within his sect that indicatively represent the common Fundamentalist charge.
Johnny T. Polk is a minister in the same Fundamentalist sect as Rudd, and he is a contributor for a different anti-Catholic in-house apologetics website called fellowshiproom.org. Polk is one of his sect’s anti-Catholic caricatures, and his material fills the gap in Rudd’s essay. And as with Rudd, Polk is not a straw man. In 2015 he wrote a short blog post with the single intention of painting Catholics as sinners. The post was titled “Roman Catholic Church Annuls Marriages”, and reads:
. . . It’s sad to think that sin could be labeled “not sin.” Jesus said: “For this reason ‘a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’ So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:5-6 NKJV). Calling “divorce” an “annulment” doesn’t change it, and human reasons” [sic] for “annulment” are not reasons for divorce. What God joins, no man can separate by calling it “annulment.”5
And to help assure you Polk’s words are indicative, the Fundamentalist apologetics website biblequestions.org, a “work of the Holly Street Church of Christ” in Denver, Colorado, as it describes Catholic annulments, reads:
Beloved, man, no man, whether civil or religious [Catholic annulment, as per the article’s title], has the right to dissolve a marriage (only God can dissolve the marriage bond) on grounds other that [sic] what God has expressly said! (Rev. 22: 18, 19.) [sic] . . . God has revealed his will on the subject of marriage.6
The manner in which Fundamentalists present the Catholic understanding of annulment might seem honest, or intelligent, or true to those who can use the Internet to learn what other Fundamentalists say about the Catholic Church, yet are incapable of using the Internet to learn what annulment actually is. As I wrote earlier, intellectual endeavor does not create Fundamentalists. Fundamentalists like Polk and the mind behind biblequestions.org hope people do not think, do not venture outside the Fundamentalist echo chamber, do not read the readily available definition of a word.
My own Google search for “Catholic Annulment” just now led me directly to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It defines the word as “a declaration . . . that a marriage thought to be valid . . . actually fell short.”7 In other words, an annulment is a declaration—a realization—that there was never a valid Marriage in the first place. Put differently, there was no Marriage, and therefore, “divorce” is an impossibility. However, Fundamentalists are determined to either misrepresent the Catholic Church or are determined to remain ignorant of basic facts; either knowingly lie, or attack what they have no interest in understanding. At the same time, they write their “words of wisdom” (Polk’s branding) and want the world to believe they teach the words of eternal life.
To most of Fundamentalism’s credit, it, like the Catholic Church, believes God established Marriage as a permanent union. The same website page that I quoted the definition of “annulment” from (and that evades so many Fundamentalists’ research) also reads:
When two people marry, they form an unbreakable bond. Jesus himself taught that marriage is permanent . . . and St. Paul reinforced this teaching. . . . The Church does not recognize a civil divorce because the State cannot dissolve what is indissoluble.8
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is just as easily accessible online as well as print, yet Fundamentalism insists on pretending that “annulment” is Catholic code for “divorce”. The Catechism, of course, is not Scripture; it is an interpretation—an exegesis—of the Scriptures. All Christian groups have a catechism, even if Fundamentalists try to present themselves as “Bible-only” Christians and keep their creeds (beliefs, written or not) and catechisms invisible—in their minds. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads:
Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death. Divorce does injury to the covenant of salvation, of which sacramental marriage is the sign (CCC #2384).