Why Protestants should attend to Vatican’s pro-life guidelines

The Vatican has released a new, authoritative document on the ethics of in vitro fertilization techniques, stem cell research, genetic engineering, and related subjects. For background and the controversy it is stirring up, read this.

We non-Catholics tend to not care about pronouncements from the Vatican, but this is one we could find useful. Interestingly, Roman Catholic ethics these days is based not on supernatural revelations from the papal authority but on reason and the natural law.

This document works from the two moral principles that human life begins at conception and that procreation should only take place within marriage. It then studies which fertility-treatment procedures, for example, are in accord with those moral truths and which are not.

Those who struggle with these issues, especially pastors of any tradition who may have to counsel people confused about such things , would benefit from reading this document, which is entitled Dignitas Personae; that is, “The Dignity of the Person” (click the link for the full document).,

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  • Eric Richey

    I agree that we protestants can learn much from Rome on matters that pertain to the left-hand kingdom like ethics and public policy. Their grasp of natural law and the way they use it in public is obviously more biblical and more effective than fundamentalist Bible-thumping.

    I briefly skimmed over the Vatican Document, and found much in common with the thought of Lutheran Ethicist Gilbert Meilaender on these matters. For both Meilaender and the Vatican, the use of the word “pro-creation” is paramount. The culture wants to call this “re-production”, which as Leon Kass has pointed out, has all sorts of dangerous implications.

    “Re-production” calls to mind the image of the factory. It leads to us to conceive of the cycle of life as something we have mastery over – allowing us to re-produce ourselves however we wish. Note too that in this paradigm – we also have the ability to halt production at any time for any reason (abortion).

  • Eric Richey

    Just found this in the Vatican Document:
    “8. By taking the interrelationship of these two dimensions, the human and the divine, as
    the starting point, one understands better why it is that man has unassailable value: he
    possesses an eternal vocation and is called to share in the trinitarian love of the living God.”

    And a bit later:
    “9. These two dimensions of life, the natural and the supernatural, allow us to understand
    better the sense in which the acts that permit a new human being to come into existence, in
    which a man and a woman give themselves to each other, are a reflection of trinitarian love.”

    Meilaender too does a wonderful job of tying in these questions of morality to the doctrine of vocation as it relates to marriage (particularly in the signficance of the sexual act between husband and wife). But Meilaender has another concern in mind as well.

    For Meilaender, the freedom to reproduce children in a controlled and artificial manner ends up being a rather shallow form of freedom in the end. The parents are given a false sense of mastery over the process which will be completely struck down sooner or later. Sooner – if the child is born with some unanticipated “defect” or “blemish”. Or, if not then, a short while later – when the innocent, understandable cry of the newborn begins to morph into the unmistakably self-centered tune of original sin.

    Either way – we are only making it even more difficult for parents to fulfill their vocation of loving and serving their neighbors (their children).

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Good comments, Eric. And thanks for posting this, Veith. I look forward to reading the document. Its true, the re-productive mindset is already the assumption of our culture. I find it incredible how quickly many of my Lutheran and other Christian friends elect to have themselves made sterile after just a few children and some before any at all! What is this fear of parenthood?! With my 5 children, believe me, I understand that its a difficult vocation, but … would that more Christians look at the pro-creation and nurture of children as a God-given vocation.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Ain’t it interesting that a few generations ago, it was seen as a great blessing to have many children (I think the Bible says something about that too). But now many today view large families as cursed by God with the cost and burden of multiple children. Even going so far as to express that each additional child robs the other children of the love and support that their parents could have focused on them.

  • Thanks, Eric. I have noticed that contemporary Roman Catholics have started to use “vocation” in the sense that Lutherans do. It didn’t used to be that way. And in Gilbert Meilaender, we have a huge voice in contemporary ethical debates that everyone has to pay attention to. It’s a good example of how our particular theology is having an influence beyond our walls.

  • Eric Richey

    Veith – yes they are using vocation in a similar way to Lutherans which is interesting considering the role that Rome’s denial of vocation played in giving us the Reformation.

    I find it interesting that in the Vatican Document they write of Christ ‘taking marriage and purifying it, elevating it, and leading it to perfection through the sacrament of matrimony.’

    Should we protestants reject such a statement? Certainly we would argue with the use of “perfection” and “sacrament” here, but I wonder if I am wrong to be pleased to see Christ’s work attached to the vocation of marriage. Could this Roman Catholic view of marriage be more helpful than what is offered in countless churches and Christian Book stores today: the “How-To Have a Great Marriage” approach that is usually built on some utterly Christ-less principles supposedly found in Scripture?

    I am wondering if I am a heretic if that view of marriage resonates with me.

  • Eric Richey

    After a second reading I guess I am troubled by the use of the term “Christian Marriage” which seems to distort a Reformation view of vocation.

    Whew – looks like I just escaped the seductive power of Rome!

  • Peter Leavitt

    We Protestant Christians should welcome Dignitas Personae as a bulwark in our fateful struggle with the secularists on issues of the dignity of the person and human life.

    Another excellent Congregation of Faith document,
    , is written by then Cardinal Ratzinger, on the subject of the disorder of homosexuality.

    Serious orthodox and evangelical Christians, along with Mormons and Orthodox Jews should all learn from and support one another against the onslaught of secularists who command the academic, media, and artistic heights of our culture.

  • Well, Eric, that Christ is in marriage is a clear teaching of one of the key texts for the Lutheran doctrine of vocation (which emphasizes not what we do, but God’s presence in our callings): Ephesians 5:22-33. This was also the emphasis in the Cranach Institute’s conference on marriage a few years ago–some of which is going to find its way into print before long!

  • Eric Richey

    Fully agree that Christ is present in our vocations – especially marriage (very thankful for this – and my wife is even more thankful for having to endure me).

    I was probably overreacting to the use of the word “Christian” as an adjective attached to My thinking was that there is no such thing as “Christian Marriage” – there is just “marriage”. Of course – it is Christians who have the tools to discern Christ’s hidden presence in marriage. I believe this is a point you make in your book, “God at Work”. Sorry for not being more clear.

  • I found it surprising that so many people found this document shocking. It seems to be to be in following with the RCC’s teaching on birth control, sex, marriage, etc. I’m just glad that I’m not the only Christian on the planet who isn’t so sure that IVF is ethical. I have gotten so many puzzled looks from people who’ve asked us “why not IVF.” I either tell them that I have ethical problems with it, or “we’d just rather adopt.” Then they think I’m some sort of saint. If I’m a saint, then so is any one who becomes a parent.

  • Dawn in Denver

    Sarah, you’re definitely not the only one who thinks IVF is wrong. Only the Catholic church seems to come right out and say so.

    It’s hard to discourage IVF without seeming to condemn the families who have done it. More and more women seemed shocked that anyone would have a problem with it.