nota bene: Why is this important? Lutherans have insisted from the very beginning of the Reformation that we are not inventing new teachings and only seek to carry forth the pure teaching of the Church which we received from the generations who came before us. In the conclusion to the Augsburg Confession, we boldly state,
We have mentioned only those things we thought it was necessary to talk about so that it would be understood that in doctrine and ceremonies we have received nothing contrary to Scripture or the Church universal. It is clear that we have been very careful to make sure no new ungodly doctrine creeps into our churches.
St. John Chrysostom (c. 349-407 AD) was Bishop of Constantinople and one of the most important church fathers of his day. A gifted theologian, he was mainly known for his preaching (“Chrysostom” means “golden-mouthed”), which was both eloquent and moving. Many of his sermons have been translated from Greek into English, and when one reads a Chrysostom sermon it becomes clear why the Church passed on the writings of this great man down through the ages.
Although he is typically regarded as an Eastern father, mainly due to his residing in the Greek-speaking Eastern part of the Roman Empire, the Lutheran Confessions cite him about a dozen times, on topics as broad as the Mass (AC XXIV), Confession, (AC XXV), the Lord’s Supper (FC Ep. VII), and Free Will (FC SD II). For this reason, we Lutherans do well to read Chrysostom and learn from him.
Far from being a topic of discussion introduced in the Sixties, the Church has confessed against contraception for centuries, and St. John Chrysostom joined in that confession. Note well what he wrote about the topic:
But the money-lover is far more harsh even than this, looming over all like hell, swallowing everyone down, going about like a common enemy of the race of men. For he even wishes that no man existed, that he might possess all things. And not even then does he stop, but when he has destroyed all men with his desire, he desires to obliterate the very substance of the earth and see it become gold. And not only the earth, but also mountains and woodlands and springs, and, in short, everything visible.
And in order that you may learn that we have not yet presented his madness: let there be no one who accuses or frightens him, indeed, take away the fear from the laws mentally for a while, and you will see him snatching up a sword, and finishing off everybody, and sparing no one – not friend, not relative, not his father. Rather, there is not even need here of supposing!
But let us ask him if he is not forever forming such fantasies after himself; and they loom over everyone while in his thoughts he kills both friends and relatives, even his own parents. Rather, there is not even need of asking! For indeed, all know how those who are possessed by this disease are weighed down even by the old age of their father.
And what is both sweet and lovely to all people – to have children – they hold to be oppressive and burdensome. Many indeed on account of this opinion have even offered to purchase the state of being childless, and have mutilated their nature, not only killing the children who have been born, but not even consenting to produce them in the first place. – Homily 28 on Matthew, Mt. 8:23-24 (emphasis added)
Note carefully what he says here, that the money-lover wishes the death or non-existence of his fellow man, in order that he may have more wealth. Isn’t this so often the argument in favor of contraception and abortion — that babies are expensive? Further, at the end of the cited text note how he links abortion/infanticide with birth control. Among the grave sins committed by the mammon-addicted money-lover are his ways of preventing his having offspring.
He notes that to this end “many indeed on account of this opinion (i.e., that children are oppressive and burdensome) have even offered to purchase the state of being childless, and have mutilated their nature,” which is to say, that they have maimed their bodies so that children could not even be conceived in them. In lumping contraception (and at least St. Augustine, who lived at the same time, indicates that there were sterility poisons available in his day) in with abortion/infanticide as the common sin of the money-lover, he makes little distinction between the two.
Editor’s Note: Pastor Andrew Richard provided the updated translation of this Chrysostom quote as well as some additional editing for this piece. Thanks!