LAMBETH CONFERENCE 1930 AND T.S. ELLIOT
We must be clear that until 1930 all Christian churches agreed that contraception was not acceptable for Christian couples as it denied one of the primary purposes of marriage, that being procreation. The Lambeth Conference was a very pastoral document and really only said that contraception was allowable in very challenging circumstances. One must remember that accurate and scientific Natural Family Planning had not yet been developed so the choice was between total abstinence and some form of artificial contraception. At that point in time there was not widespread knowledge and ability in reliable methods of NFP for couples to
exercise “responsible parenthood”.
THE ANGLICAN BISHOP’S RESOLUTION 15 OF AUGUST 15, 1930
Where there is a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, the method must be decided on Christian principles. The primary and obvious method is complete abstinence from intercourse (as far as may be necessary) in a life of discipleship and self-control lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, in those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles. The Conference records its strong condemnation of the use of any methods of conception-control for motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience.
You will note that the acceptance of of ‘contraception’ is very limited and was not a blanket acquiescence to “anything goes”. And yet it opened the floodgates for society at large. T.S Elliot, who did not wholly disagree with the approach of the Church of England– did have this to say on the leaving the matter of when couples shouldhave recourse of contraception to ‘individual conscience’ : “I regret, however, that the bishops have placed so much reliance upon the Individual Conscience; and by so doing jeopardized the benefits of their independence. Certainly anyone who is wholly sincere and pure in heart may seek guidance from the Holy Spirit; but who of us is always wholly sincere, especially where the most imperative of instincts may be wrong enough to simulate to perfection the voice of the Holy Spirit.”*
Elliot wisely pointed out that faith is the basis for morals, not the other way around and that in speaking to youth there is no point to sugar coating the “discipline and asceticism” of Christianity. “You will never attract the young by making Christianity easy; but a good many can be attracted by finding it difficult: difficult both to the disorderly mind and to the unruly passions.”
He also laments that the Conference suggests that couples only seek the counsel of the Church on the matter of contraception if they are “perplexed”. He states that “…here, if anywhere, is definately a matter upon which the Individual Conscience is no reliable guide; spiritual guidance should be imperative; and it should be clearly placed above medical advice–where also, opinions and theories vary indefinitely. “*
Also see Catholic Answers for a survey of the teaching and history on birth control. Many useful links are also available.
*T.S. Elliot, Thoughts After Lambeth, London: Faber and Faber, 1931.