Fr. Patrick Reardon on Contraception

One of the most fraught questions confronting contemporary Orthodox moral theology is the issue of contraception. As I have detailed in both The Angelus magazine (“No Light from the Orthodox East on Christian Marriage“) and on this blog, the Eastern Orthodox Church steadily shifted away from prohibiting contraception absolutely to allowing it “under certain circumstances” during the course of the last century. Today, a majority of Orthodox prelates and priests (at least in the West) take a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to the matter, leaving it to married couples to decide for themselves whether or not to use contraception. (It should be noted, however, that chemical contraception, such as “the pill,” is still tacitly condemned by several Orthodox jurisdictions, including the Orthodox Church in America and the Russian Orthodox Church.) Speaking from personal experience, I can attest that one can go to any number of priests in a single city and get wildly divergent answers on what Orthodoxy’s “official stance” is regarding contraception, the ends of Christian marriage, the role of children in marriage, natural family planning, and so on and so forth.

Now comes Orthodox cleric Fr. Patrick Reardon (a man whose views on marriage and contraception I am very familiar with) to try and set the record straight on just Orthodoxy’s traditional stance on the matter, but all Christian confessions. A video of Fr. Reardon’s remarks is attached to this article on Lifesite News.

13 comments

  1. Gabriel, you stated, quite correctly, the following: ” I can attest that one can go to any number of priests in a single city and get wildly divergent answers.”

    But can one not say exactly the same thing about Roman Catholic clergy today as well?

  2. And perhaps that means there is no official position “regarding contraception, the ends of Christian marriage, the role of children in marriage, natural family planning, and so on and so forth” in the Orthodox Church. As with most things in Orthodoxy beyond triadology and christology, Tradition has not been formalized. Tradition being the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church is a less structured, descriptive way to look at Tradition, of course, and that could open itself up to all sort of abuses. That said, Orthodoxy has shown herself to be enormously ‘conservative’, perhaps more so than organizations with far more structured, prescriptive ways of defining the Faith. Thus, perhaps contraception is an area where modern science can shed light on and therefore modify older views held by the saints based on faulty information, i.e., semen is not a baby that is killed by contraception or masturbation. Increased knowledge has modified our views of creation and the Genesis account itself with what we know of evolution and cosmology, as another example, and the saints old were just as consistent in treating those accounts as ‘literally’ true. That is, traditional practice alone does not make a practice Tradition. We are called on to use our brains in these matters in the same way the saints did as they wrestled with the dogmas of the Trinity and the Person of Christ.

      1. I’m just not sure if what I just described is different than what the Fathers were actually doing who we claim to be following. Do we follow their method, or the results of their method? I’m thinking in particular of the Cappadocians though this tendency is even more clear with the Ante-Nicene Fathers. They didn’t have predecessors to fall back on as indisputable authorities in the way later Fathers had the Cappadocians (and others, of course) to rely on as touchstones of orthodoxy.

        1. Spoken like a true Modernist.

          When it comes to sex, there’s always room for nuance, interpretation, and charity.

          When it comes to the pope and Filioque? Not so much.

          1. I’m not sure what your train of thought is here. It’s the Orthodox ‘modernists’ specifically who have been ‘nuanced’ and ‘charitable’ regarding the filioque and primacy in the church. They are lambasted by self-proclaimed traditionalists for selling out on the filioque and seeking a new Unia. It’s a consistent theme to the Council in Crete, in fact. ‘Modernists’ on the Roman side would seem to be equally open to the method as opposed to the results of past method, based on new data inputs. Science is a part of that, but so too has been scholarship on what we now know to be spurious texts as well as on the messiness of both sides’ party lines regarding a unanimity around any number of issues. Lack of “nuance, interpretation, and charity” seems to be the ground on which self-proclaimed Catholic and Orthodox (and Protestant, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, etc.) traditionalists stand, unfortunately, not modernists (though I don’t claim or accept such an appellation).

          2. Gabriel, you are quite correct about the Filioque, why that is still even an issue is beyond me, simply the difference in language of Greek and Latin answers that issue; of course, one can still debate if it belongs in the Creed. Even in an Orthodox seminary, we learnt that the old fight about the theological issue of the Filioque is a non-issue.

            But the Pope issue is indeed different. The modern concept, at least since 1870 that the Pope’s infallibility as a personal charisma is an issue that should not be confused with charity. If anything, it is a real example of a form of modernism. The personal infallibility of the Pope, whose decrees are not based upon the “consent of the Church” and universal jurisdiction are indeed serious issues. And ones which I would posit are insurmountable.

          3. I once made a joke about the colors available at my Christian high school.

            –Black is for the darkness that sin leads us into.
            –Red is for the blood of Jesus Christ.
            –White is for the purity His Blood brings
            –Gray is for THE F’IN LIBERALS, who try to find gray areas in everything!!!

  3. This is all a load of horse shit. Contraception and all its forms should not be in regulated by the church. Just because some white man in a hat decrees it doesn’t make it right. The Lord gave us pleasure from sex for a reason. Procreating is not the only reason for sex, and I believe God intended it to be so.

    1. What if it is decreed by a black man, say Ethiopian Orthodox, in a hat, would that make it all right?

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