Friday 17 September 2021

Contraception and Chastity - Elizabeth Anscombe - CTS Explanations

Contraception and Chastity
G.E.M. Anscombe
Elizabeth Anscombe
Catholic Truth Society
ISBN 9781860822216
eISBN 9781784693633
CTS Booklet Ex14

This is the first volume by Elizabeth Anscombe that I have read, and I believe she did not write any other volumes for the Catholic Truth Society. This is the tenth volume that I have read in the CTS Explanations series. In the last few years I have read over 200 books and booklets from the Catholic Truth Society. Based on the CTS number books the highest in this series I have encountered is EX49 and the list at the back of the book there are at least 49 books in this series. 

Some have eBooks, some are out of print, and a few are still available both in print and digitally. This is a fascinating series, it tackles some hard questions. And they give clear and concise summary of Catholic Teachings on those topics. The description on the back of this book is:

“Contraception and Chastity was first published by the CTS in 1975. Its fresh and incisive defence of the Church’s teaching has helped many to appreciate the reasons for that teaching.Elizabeth Anscombe taught philosophy at Oxford for many years and was Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge between 1970 and 1986. She died in 2001. The present edition of the pamphlet has been prepared by her daughter and literary executor Dr. Mary Gormally.”

The chapters in this volume are:

I. The Church, the world and chastity
II. Discussion of the historic teaching on contraception as an offence against chastity in the broader sense
III. Discussion of the teaching of ‘Humanae Vitae’
IV. The virtue of chastity

This volume was published in 1975 it was updated in 2003, and the ebook edition was released in 2017. The original edition of this came out just seven years after Saint Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae. And this volume draws heavily from that work, and expands upon it. The writing in this volume is very academic. Most of the books from the CTS I have read are very accessible, but this one will take a little more effort and work on the readers part. The author Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret Anscombe, who was better known as Elizabeth Anscombe, was a British analytic philosopher. 

The book is very well written. But it is full of a great deal of information. It was net easy to read an engage with, but it was well worth the effort. Some of the passages I highlighted during my read through are:

“As Anscombe argues, to accept contraception is, if we reason it through, to leave ourselves with no clear and compelling reason for avoiding personal unchastity.”

“You see, what can’t be otherwise we accept; and so we accept death and its unhappiness. But possibility destroys mere acceptance. And so it is with the possibility of having intercourse and preventing conception.”

“Christianity taught that men ought to be as chaste as pagans thought honest women ought to be; the contraceptive morality teaches that women need to be as little chaste as pagans thought men need be.”

“If you can turn intercourse into something other than the reproductive type of act (I don’t mean of course that every act is reproductive any more than every acorn leads to an oak tree but it’s the reproductive type of act) then why, if you can change it, should it be restricted to the married?”

“But Athenagoras, the Ecumenical Patriarch, who has the primacy of the Orthodox Church, immediately spoke up and confirmed that this was Christian teaching, the only possible Christian teaching.”

“You cannot point to the known fact that Christianity drew people out of the pagan world, always saying no to these things. Because, if you are defending contraception, you will have rejected Christian tradition.”

“That is how a Christian will understand his duty in relation to this small, but very important, part of married life. It’s so important in marriage, and quite generally, simply because there just is no such thing as a casual, non-significant, sexual act.”

“The trouble about the Christian standard of chastity is that it isn’t and never has been generally lived by; not that it would be profitless if it were. Quite the contrary: it would be colossally productive of earthly happiness.”

This is one of those books that was likely unpopular when first published, and in many ways would be even more so today. It is a book that would upset many in society, but also many in the church who do not want to live this way. There is a term I am not fond of ‘Cafeteria Catholic’, but there are many Catholics who would reject this teaching, even though it is clear from this volume and church history that this has been the church’s teaching. Even if many throughout the ages have not lived up to it.

I am very thankful that I picked up and read this volume. As a father I want my children to do a better job of living their faith than I did in my youth. This book has some great information, and excellent teaching. Well reasoned and very clearly laid out and presented. 

Another great read from the CTS in an excellent series!   

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2021 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

Books in the CTS Explanations Series:
Marriage Annulment in the Catholic Church
Jehovah’s Witnesses
Does the Church oppress Women?
Organ Transplant – and the definition of Death
Be Yourself An Explanation of Humility - William Lawson SJ
Gene Therapy – and Human Genetic Engineering
Prenatal tests
Gift of life and Love
Cloning and Stem Cell Research
Contraception and Chastity
Freemasonry and the Christian Faith
Intelligent Life in the Universe
Spirits, Mediums & The Afterlife

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