On Contraception

I received a somewhat odd letter from a reader code-named Thomas Binu which I here reprint in full:

This is off-topic, but I couldn’t find a place to email you this directly, hence posting it here. I just happened to visit your blog today, and found it interesting enough to spend most of my free (and some more) time here. I have a question about Catholic position on contraception from a philosophical perspective. (I am a practicing Catholic, btw, just so you know).

Church is against artificial contraception on the argument that the activity of sex is meant for procreation. I get it. But then, I also understand that the Church allows natural family planning. My question is: how morally upright is the position that natural family panning is okay, while the artificial one is not?

Let me expound this a bit more. I understand that there is nothing TECHNICALLY different between a couple consummating their marriage without planning anything vs. they doing it knowing that the sex on that particular day is going to be safe. But, I am not talking about the technicality. I am talking about the MORALITY of that action. By morality, I do not mean the formal morality with respect to a creed written in a Vatican creed. I am talking about the morality of the conscience, morality in front of The One from whom you cannot hide anything, even your mental attitude.

How different is the mindset that I will schedule my love-making activity such that I can be confident that that won’t lead to any child, from the mindset that I will ensure that my love-making won’t lead to any child by using some artificial technique? Morally, I just feel that natural family planning is nothing but a con that I am trying to pull. Its very much like a 15-year old sitting in a church just because his parents forced him to attend the mass, while planning about what porn sites he will visit once he gets back home. There is no sincerity to the principle there. He might as well sit at home and jerk-off.

So, how is the Church justified in advocating for natural family planning if it indeed wholly want to promote the essential principle behind the teaching? Or, has it underplayed the role of love-making in between a couple in binding them together in the family, as in “he will join her”, which is not necessarily the same function as procreation?

This seems to be a question which the Church has answered logically, clearly, and repeatedly. I do not know a way more clearly to recite the teaching of the Catholic Church but to recite it.

Here is a quote from the pertinent section of the Catechism, which I also reprint in full:

The fecundity of marriage

2366 Fecundity is a gift, an end of marriage, for conjugal love naturally tends to be fruitful. A child does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfillment. So the Church, which is “on the side of life,”151 teaches that “it is necessary that each and every marriage act remain ordered per se to the procreation of human life.”152 “This particular doctrine, expounded on numerous occasions by the Magisterium, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.”153

2367 Called to give life, spouses share in the creative power and fatherhood of God.154 “Married couples should regard it as their proper mission to transmit human life and to educate their children; they should realize that they are thereby cooperating with the love of God the Creator and are, in a certain sense, its interpreters. They will fulfill this duty with a sense of human and Christian responsibility.”155

368 A particular aspect of this responsibility concerns the regulation of procreation. For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood. Moreover, they should conform their behavior to the objective criteria of morality:

When it is a question of harmonizing married love with the responsible transmission of life, the morality of the behavior does not depend on sincere intention and evaluation of motives alone; but it must be determined by objective criteria, criteria drawn from the nature of the person and his acts, criteria that respect the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love; this is possible only if the virtue of married chastity is practiced with sincerity of heart.156

369 “By safeguarding both these essential aspects, the unitive and the procreative, the conjugal act preserves in its fullness the sense of true mutual love and its orientation toward man’s exalted vocation to parenthood.”157

2370 Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality.158 These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil:159

Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality. . . . The difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle . . . involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality.160

My comment: I am not qualified to teach Catholic Catechism, nor am I your father confessor. I called your letter odd because you have other people aside from a random science fiction writer on the internet to whom to direct your question.

The short answer is that the two forms of contraception, artificial and natural, are essentially different. One is using a period of infertility granted by God in His design of the human person which allows us to space births prudently, according to the right reason He placed in our breasts. The other is an attempt to divorce the procreation of the sex act from the recreation of the sex act.

Divorcing the procreation from recreation leads to a society where gay marriage is inevitable, that is, the society we see today. Look around you. Women are sex objects, pornography is universal, families are shattered, bastards are more common than legitimate births, more than half the black babies conceived are killed in their mother’s wombs by allegedly compassionate white Liberals and their murder machine of Planned Parenthood.

That world is not possible without artificial contraception. Natural family planning simply does not form a large enough  break between the procreative and the unitive aspects of marriage to have these evil side effects.

As for how you yourself feel, I recommend you ignore your emotions and look at the logic of it, and talk it over with your priest.

43 Comments

  1. Comment by JartStar:

    As a Protestant I must sadly admit the cause of the majority of evil you listed lands squarely at our feet. While non-faithful Catholics no doubt played their part, they were spurred on by the example set by their Protestant brethren. The moral and theological chaos presently taking place in Protestantism are symptoms of a century long split between conservative and liberals Protestants, with the resulting implosion of Mainline Protestantism and the final dividing line being homogamy.

    • Comment by Brian Niemeier:

      While I applaud your humility, justice compels me to make Chesterton’s confession. What’s wrong with the world? I am.

      Though Protestant communions accept artificial contraception, we’re well past the blame-laying stage. We may as well go all the way back to the admitted sins and excesses of Catholic clergy that ignited the Protestant Revolt.

      Now that we–Catholic and Protestant alike–recognize this evil and its vile fruits, honesty requires that we renounce it and live according to truth.

      • Comment by The Ubiquitous:

        Chesterton didn’t write that, true as it is. He did write a book on the subject, however.

        • Comment by Carbonel:

          So did Weber. For fen who wonder what the whole schism was about his Safehold books are pretty awesome. Which doesn’t change that fact that the legitimate dispute was ended in the mid-1980s. John mayn’t remember this, but I do: I was in the Italian House kitchen reading the religion section of the local rag, when I discovered that Catholic cardinals had met with leaders of the M.S. Lutheran church.

          Catholics: You know that a faith without works is dead and
          meaningless.

          Lutherans: Of course. You know that men are saved by grace not by ANY works they might do?

          Catholics: Of course.

          I shouted Hallelluia and Amen twice (not exaggerating). All else is doctrinal minutia that the Catholic church will get squared away to the MSLC standard eventually :-)

  2. Comment by Nathaniel Givens:

    When practicing artificial contraception a couple may engage in sex while avoiding pregnancy. When practicing natural contraception (a misnomer, but go with it) a couple may not engage in sex while avoiding pregnancy. Thus: artificial contraception confounds a natural end of sex. Natural contraception does not.

    I’m not sure how it’s possible to confuse the two, and I say that as an outsider (non-Catholic) looking in.

  3. Comment by Rainforest Giant:

    Pope Paul VI was right. Not only right but prophetic in his ‘Humanae Vitae’. We have come to the point where not only abortion, but homogamy, and even euthanasia are now mainstream.

    All due to men and women who would rather live in sin (even when married) than simply follow the plan laid out by God. In England they heat their hospitals partially with the bodies of aborted babies. Here they use babies in other horrific ways without any compunction. Accept homogamy, abortion, and other sin and you will invite the fate of Carthage, Sodom, or the Amalekites.

  4. Comment by Malcolm Smith:

    What is immediately obvious from this answer, is that it does not refer back to anything in the Bible. Who made the Catechism of equal authority to the Bible, such that it does not only expound the Bible, but preaches doctrines on which the Bible is silent? We know that catechisms have been changed in the past, as when Keenan’s Catechism dropped its rejection of papal infallibility after the doctrine itself was changed.

    • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

      “Who made the Catechism of equal authority to the Bible…?”
      You are trying to refute the contents of the Catechism like you would a Scripture interpretation you disagree with.

      But the Catechism has exactly the authority the Church’s Magisterium lends to it; the Magisterium in turn derives its authority from the uninterrupted Tradition, which produced, and was not produced by, the Bible. (The Church inherited the Jewish Tradition and the Jewish Bible from Christ, of course, because the Bible is all about Him. Then the Old Testament is hers, too.)

      Neither one of those three, Tradition, Magisterium, Bible, has any authority if not buttressed by the other two. You can be certain that each phrase, and almost each word, of the Catechism, like any other document of the Church, has many bearings in the Tradition and the Bible. You can check for yourself, if you are patient enough, the numerous references.

      • Comment by Carbonel:

        Sola gratia, sola fides, sola scriptura

        Only these three things matter. Authority is necessary, but far from sufficient. It’s one leg of a three-legged stool.

        That’s the weakness of any hierarchical church (I include mine own, whose flaws I could paint here quite easily. But don’t. Because, as I point out to the teens to whom I teach internet safety: that stuff you post? Lives forever. You want to play fast and loose with the souls of men? I thought not.)

        Men confuse, “what I, in all the magnificent power of my awesome reasoning ability, have concluded” with “reality as God made it.” All. The. Time. (Google the guy who wrote one of my all time favorite hymns: Ride on, Ride on in Majesty, just frex)

        We tend to weight merely human authority rather more highly than it deserves. We harm the lambs we’re meant to shepherd as a result (I’m thinking of a specifically MSLC thingummy here, my Catholic & evangelical friends, truly). I have to leave it at that, I’m afraid. Wiser heads, etc.

        But you know this? Authority is just one leg of the stool: Yes, we unbalance it from time to time, but the other legs: Scripture, and the grace of God? There’s Nothing we human beans can do to mess that up.

        Halleluia and amen twice.

  5. Comment by binu.thomaz:

    A couple of silly things first – I think its a normal practice for average guys to seek opinions from multiple people (esp. in the internet age when they come as free as it can), so, not very odd as far as I am concerned. Also, as I mentioned, I was looking for a philosophical approach, not a pastoral counselling.

    Now, coming back to the topic. Since you have mentioned that CCC is the most clear explanation you can think of, I am not pressing for an answer, but I thought I should make my question a little bit clearer.

    Perhaps, I will start with your explanation. You mentioned that this sex-maniac world is due to artificial contraception. While I do not contest the fact that artificial contraception has been the sword of that particular beast, my question was solely restricted to its use within marriage. I can (at least hypothetically) imagine a world without all this mania in spite of married couples using artificial contraception. Just assume that contraceptives are available to only married heterosexual couples (by law & practice). I don’t see any reason to think that such a world would have turned out to be very different from a world without contraceptives. Or assume that there were no contraceptives and AIDS, but only government-funded no-guilt abortion. I don’t see any reason to think that such a world would have turned out to be very different from the current world. So, “contraception within marriage” as a moral question cannot be simply answered by quoting the side-effects of “universal contraception” (using the CCC’s Intention-Object-Circumstance model of morality) because circumstances (that includes consequences also) are different.

    Now, let me compare the NFP with AC using this model.

    If you follow AC:
    Object: Divorce procreation from recreation – Intrinsically evil.
    Intention: We want to live alone (bad) or We want to focus our attention on other kids (good).
    Circumstance: We are too busy to bring up a child (bad) or We don’t even have a job that affords us to buy diapers (good).

    If you follow NFP under the same intention & circumstance, we are only left with the Object to differentiate between the morality of the two. What’s the object of NFP? Now, unlike AC, there are two possibilities here. One is obviously the same as AC. That is intrinsically evil. The other one is “maintain marital chastity”. Now, that is definitely not intrinsically evil. To me, this seems to be Church’s position. I get it.

    But, there is a catch here. This is what I wanted to explore in my original question. I am not talking about the morality of the absence of sex during NFP. Rather, I am talking about the sex that happens in the “safe” period. How moral is that activity GIVEN THAT I am following NFP? Assuming the same set of Intention & Circumstance, what is the Object of the “sex under NFP”? It not definitely “maintain marital chastity”. Is it “recreation and procreation”? I would say NO, because I have already taken the decision not to procreate by following NFP. Then, it becomes just “recreation”, which means I have divorced the recreation from procreation.

    There is an easier exemplification for this rather intricate philosophical argument. Assume that you have a couple who marries at the age of 25 and observe NFP for lifelong till they both die. By assuming that NFP as an action is morally good, we are led to a position to consider that this couple acted morally good in their lifetime. This is a contradiction to the basic morality of marriage. This contradiction can disappear only if you consider that NFP is also “intrinsically evil”. (Another way to avoid this contradiction is to get the Circumstance into the play, like, saying that since the couple does not have a child, NFP was wrong. But that brings up more questions like what are the rules around NFP? That you should not do NFP when you start your married life? Or you should stop NFP if you don’t have one child after two years? Why 2 years, not 3? Why 1 child, not 2? See where am I going? All these kinds of questions are simply absurd, in that you can’t build morality around answers to these kind of simplistic questions.)

    A totally different way to resolve this contradiction is this: within the sacrament of matrimony, consider that procreation and recreation are two individual and independent principles. “Be fruitful & multiply” is not combined with “They will become one” in the Scriptures, hence you don’t have to necessarily attach “fruitfulness” with every single act of “becoming one”. Approaching matrimony as just recreation and avoiding children becomes a violation of “being fruitful”, thus still becoming immoral when that INTENT NOT TO HAVE ANY CHILDREN appears in the couple’s life and gets decoupled from the INTENT NOT TO HAVE CHILD AT THIS MOMENT, which is what gets us into a philosophical tangle.

    I am being heretical by saying this. But, I would like to pin-point to the exact point of heresy. All what I have right now are some opinions from a few sources (some very similar to the bad-world argument that you mentioned), but I would appreciate a deeper answer. Of course, not pressing for it or anything. I will continue to ponder over this.

    • Comment by Roki:

      You are correct to identify the object as the most important part of a moral act. Artificial contraception is intrinsically evil and objectively disordered; that is, it is an act contrary to nature as God created it, and cannot be done without sin.

      NFP is not intrinsically evil or objectively disordered; it is a method of discerning the natural cycles of a woman’s fertility. That does not make it absolutely good or always praiseworthy; it simply means that it is permissible. It requires good intentions to be a truly virtuous act.

      For that matter, sexual relations are not intrinsically evil or objectively disordered. They also require good intentions (part of which is the willingness to abstain outside of marriage) to be a virtuous act.

      Notice that neither of these acts, even if they are virtuous, are obligatory. No one is required to chart cycles, or to engage in sexual relations. This is part of the freedom which God has given us: that we may choose among the goods of creation.

      Even within marriage, I am not bound to seek children. I am only bound to be open to them. This is because, while the Church recognizes children as a good proper to marriage, she also recognizes that children are not the only good of marriage, and that marriage is in fact good even when no children are born of it.

      So, in your example of a couple who marries and remains childless through NFP, we cannot say very much about their virtue or vice. The question is, did they discern together that it was better for their marriage in particular to remain childless? Or did they set their wills against God’s and refuse the gift of children? This is, almost certainly, beyond any human ability to determine, except perhaps their confessors.

      The “exact point of heresy”, if there is one, seems to be a desire for rules to replace the intelligence and freedom that God gave us. There are no rules for how you particularly should live out your marriage, or how I should live mine. There are rules for what we should avoid, such as the evil of contraception; and there are tools (like NFP, or the Rosary, etc.) that may help many people to grow in virtue, but the good God calls you to in your marriage is likely to be rather different than the good God calls me to in mine. He gives us the gift of conscience to discern these differences, and to seek the good that he has set before each of us, without envying the goods he sets before others.

    • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

      “this rather intricate philosophical argument”
      This is not a philosophical argument, this is only situational morality, where the exception always become the rule, so always end in subjectivism.

      In Roki’s answer, the same problem is less obvious, but there is too much emphasis on intentions, which lead to subjectivism also.

      There are no nuances in morality: there is only the good thing to do and the evil thing to avoid. You can make mistakes, lack knowledge, lack freedom, lack reason, you may not be imputable, or in an impossibility to act, or you may be coerced, but any of these, as well as any good intentions, cannot make the wrong not wrong and the good less than good.

      I know this is unacceptable for worldly post-moderns, but it should be easy to understand for Christians, as you seem to be. Our Savior died on a cross to bring us to understand that our souls are at stake and that nothing but heroism of virtue will save us. He gave us with His grace a real capacity to make the good option and live within the truth as best we can.

    • Comment by luckymarty:

      I am being heretical by saying this. But, I would like to pin-point to the exact point of heresy.

      As others have said in more detail, it seems that you are taking an expansive view of what openness to life means in the marital context and this is leading you to dubious conclusions.

      Although I would (paradoxically) advise you to avoid taking spiritual advice from Just Some Guy on the Internet, I will also say that if this is an issue in your personal life (as opposed to a more abstract, intellectual concern) you may also be at risk of scrupulosity. You’ll probably want to seek out spiritual direction from someone who is actually qualified and can get to know you personally.

    • Comment by Gary Black:

      I read all the responses and didn’t notice this point, so I feel I should add it. This is not meant to be a comprehensive response. It should also be noted that I once felt very similarly to you. I am 28 with 1 child so this is a relevant topic for me.

      NFP can be used in an immoral way. If you decide you aren’t going to have children in your marriage, NFP does not whitewash it. Openness to life means, at a minimum, evaluating on an ongoing basis whether it would be good for your family to grow – with all the numerous things that entails.

      That being said, [and here I think I get a bit redundant with the other posters,] it may be a moral imperative to avoid children. But just like it is a moral imperative for me to provide for my family, it is not OK for me to lie, cheat, and steal to do so. Christianity does not agree that the ends justifies the means.

      It did seem you were addressing the means at one point and the end at another. So let me also discuss the means more directly. Let me walk through a NFP situation that might make clear why it is moral if seeking a moral end. –I’d like to have sex. –Is it good for my family to increase? No. –Is my wife fertile? Yes … well then it seems imprudent [and perhaps even immoral] to have sex with my wife. OR –Is my wife fertile? No … then it seems morally licit [and even good] to enjoy the good of sex with my wife.

      The most simple way I can see how ABC is immoral is that it treats fertility as a disease. Fertility is a good and to destroy it is to do evil.

  6. Comment by Danby:

    @Malcolm,
    The question was on the teaching of the Catholic Church, not on the biblical foundations for the teachings of the Catholic Church. That might be a fruitful inquiry, but it was not what was asked.
    The point I would have made is that no couple (as a couple) is ever under a religious obligation to engage in intercourse. As such, there is then no objective sin involved in the failure to do so. Although there certainly can be subjective sin in one’s attitude and reasoning, choosing not to have sex is not per se sinful.
    Further, Fr. Stephen Keenan’s Cathechism, whatever it’s value, was not the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and as such is not dispositive as to Catholic teaching. I’m not sure what the point of talking about a 150 year old privately produced catechism is to the question of contraception, unless you are just using the question as a convenient excuse to attack the Church. Oh, you were? Well then, carry on.

    Here, BTW is Fr Keenan’s revised paragraph on infallibility from his 1874 catechism:
    Q. What do Catholics believe concerning the Infallibility of the Pope?
    A. That the visible head of the Church on earth received from Christ the same prerogative of infallibility which we have shown above (pp. 69-95) to be necessary to and to belong to the Church by divine institution. Prior to 1870, they were not as yet clear about the exact relationship of the Pope to the Church and its infallibility, which was of course, the point clarified by the Vatican definition.
    Papal infallibility before its solemn definition was held by many theologians to be a revealed truth; others considered it certain, though not revealed; others again denied it. Its status was not clear.
    Those who denied it were not heretics. because they did not hold their denial contumeliously. But were prepared to obey the Church whenever it made the matter clear by the exercise of its teaching authority.
    Thus. if Protestants maintained, before the Vatican Council, that belief in Papal Infallibility was binding upon all Catholics under pain of heresy, what they said could fairly be described as a Protestant invention.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      “The question was on the teaching of the Catholic Church, not on the biblical foundations for the teachings of the Catholic Church. That might be a fruitful inquiry, but it was not what was asked.”

      Bless you for noticing this. Sometimes I feel as if I am the only person on Earth who answers the question asked when asked, instead of answering a different question, one not asked, which the question asked reminds me of.

      • Comment by Carbonel:

        waves hands wildly in the air ooh! ooh! pick me!

        I think we mostly just don’t comment.

        Seriously, I thought the question was (in the words of the bard) “a fair cop.” Your answer, especially for a recent convert, ought to be the model.

        Good on ya.

  7. Comment by tmbridgeland:

    This isn’t the root of the matter, but consider the different effects on the individual and couple of the two. Artificial contraception encourages thoughtless sex, natural rhythm methods encourage restraint, thoughtfulness and I expect that they also encourage pure enjoyment of the act. A period of abstinence makes the act that much more enjoyable.
    So your choice is a method that makes sex less enjoyable, and little forethought or planning. Or, a method that requires discipline, thoughtfulness, and is more pleasurable.
    Which will lead to a better person, and which encourages degrading the sex act, and the person?
    And, practically, contraception doesn’t seem to prevent lots of ‘unwanted’ babies, or there wouldn’t be so many abortions.

  8. Comment by Malcolm Smith:

    In other words, it is all right to have a contrary opinion until the Church of Rome suddenly decides what the opinion should be. That doesn’t sound too convincing. In any case, my point was: Who made the Catechism of equal authority to the Bible, such that it does not only expound the Bible, but preaches doctrines on which the Bible is silent? If Keenan’s Cathecism was a private one, what evidence do we have the one quoted by Mr Wright is any different? Does it bear any inscription to the effect: This is an ex cathedra ruling from the Pope, and therefore cannot be questioned?

    • Comment by Roki:

      The Catechism is not of equal authority to the Bible. No Catholic ever claimed it was.

      The Catechism is a summary of Christian doctrine, not a source of it. It is therefore useful for summarizing. This is also why various catechisms, both privately composed and officially promulgated, are written through the ages: because the purpose of a catechism is to summarize Christian doctrine in a way that people can easily understand, and what is easy to understand changes as culture and history and language changes.

      The Bible is a source of Christian doctrine, but is not always a clear guide to the fullness of that doctrine. So it is not always the best place to go when seeking clarity or a comprehensive statement.

      Now, here is probably the point of contention: the Catholic Church does not consider the Bible to be the only or a sufficient source of Christian doctrine. The reason for this is twofold: first, that the fullness of Christian truth is in Christ himself, and is lived through his body, not bound in the words of a text – however inspired and useful that text is for communicating Christ’s message; second, that the Church pre-existed the Bible, and is herself the authority on which the Bible is defined.

    • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

      “This is an ex cathedra ruling from the Pope, and therefore cannot be questioned.”

      You have that in every document of the Church every time it quotes the Bible, the Fathers, ecumenical councils, encyclicals, or other authoritative documents. I repeat myself, but for us Catholics the Tradition of the Church is first. The Bible is second, as it is the product of Tradition, both Jewish and Christian, in continuity. The Bible is like the Catechism, it is authoritative only because the Tradition and the Magisterium guarantee it is a faithful and inspired report of Revelation. The Catechism is also, but in a systematic and technical way, a faithful report of the most important items of the living Tradition.

      • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

        I should have pointed out, as Danby does very well below, that the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic (=Tradition) Church would have no authority whatsoever if Christ had not bestowed her His own. I always have in mind Vatican II dogmatic constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) on the question, but I should have emphasized the meaning of Tradition a bit more, as follows:

        Tradition means transmission, and the Church’s exclusive and permanent mission is to faithfully transmit to all the world until the end of times the Revelation of the Word of God. The Word of God is not words on paper, it is a real bodily (a glorious body is still a real body) Person. The means of this transmission, without which there would be no Tradition and no Church, is not, historically as well as doctrinally, the Bible (it did not even exist as such in the Apostolic times), it is the Eucharist.

        The validity of both the Eucharist and the written Word of God, as well as the rightful interpretation of Scripture, primarily transmitted while celebrating the Eucharist, is guaranteed by the uninterrupted apostolic succession and the gift of infallibility to Peter.

        The very existence and permanence of the Holy Church is attached to the Holy Sacrifice, the real bodily presence of Christ, brought to humanity, words and flesh, through the Eucharist. The gift of the Holy Spirit IS the Eucharist, the feast of the Lamb who gave His life for His Bride. Everything in the life of the Church is meant to ensure the Eucharist is worthily celebrated and received.

    • Comment by Danby:

      The more basic and interesting question is Who made the Bible of greater authority than Christ? You see, Christ came to found a Church. In founding that church, He granted it His own authority. That includes the authority to resolve important questions of doctrine.

      This was exemplified by the council of the Apostles in Jerusalem, to resolve the question of adherence to Judaic law. This was an active and bitterly disputed question, with learned and holy men on both sides, and the answer was not at all clear. Ultimately the decision is made by James the Greater (Patriarch of Jerusalem) to not require circumcision and other works of the Mosaic Law, for, as Peter said “We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved.”

      Where was the Biblical authority for James’ decision? There was no Bible, per se. There were only the Torah and the Prophets, any honest reading of which would have unequivocally supported circumcision. But the Church had its authority from Christ, and conferred it on James.

      Once the decision was made, was it “all right to have a contrary opinion until the Church of Rome suddenly decided what the opinion should be?” Of course, because that was one of the primary purposes for which Christ created the Church. “Whosoever listens to you listens to me.”

      The Church carries the authority of Christ Himself. The Bible carries the part of the authority of the Church. The Bible is the codification of the life of Christ and the sources of Christian understanding, but is not itself the source or sole measure of doctrine.

  9. Comment by Outlaw-X:

    however inspired and useful that text is for communicating Christ’s message; second, that the Church pre-existed the Bible, and is herself the authority on which the Bible is defined.

    This is correct Jesus Instituted the Church, he never told any of his disciples to write down anything. He commanded to preach the Word and to Baptize. The Church institution created by Jesus did write down the words of Christ as well as many other documents including the Catechism of the Catholic church. If one is to take objection to the Catechism one must also take objection to the Bible for neither were commanded by Christ to be written.

  10. Comment by Sean Michael:

    I would like to stress a point no one else seems to have thought of in this discussion of NFP and artificial contraceptives. One reason why NFB does not violate morality and the ends of sexual reproduction is because no drugs or barrier devices are used. So, while conception might not occur while using NFP, it still might. The Christian couple striving to obey God is open to the chance that conception might occur. The couple using drugs and condoms to deliberately thwart the ends of sexual reproduction is unwilling to be open to new life.

    Sean M. Brooks

    • Comment by Scott W.:

      Well said Mr. Brooks. One of the ways contraception desecrates the marital bond, offends against chastity, and is a menace to public morals is how it degrades the female body to a machine with an on/off fertility switch. The clue to this is the fact that “health” experts warn contracepting women that decide they want to get pregnant to wait a number of cycles before trying so the body can return to its normal function. I’m not being facetious by scare-quoting “health”. The purpose of medicine is therapeutic; to restore normal function to diseased body parts. Fertility is not a disease, and yet people take drugs to make it non-functional. In any other context, we would call it poison.

      • Comment by Sean Michael:

        Hi, Scott W!

        Many thanks! And your comment about how contraceptive drugs are actually poisons which warps a woman’s fertility in destructive ways interested me. Never thought of it like that, but I agree with it.

        Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

        • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

          Contraceptive drugs are not only poison to the woman’s health and fertility, generally, but they are very often abortifacient. As they are known to be poisonous, the dose is kept as low as possible, so the drugs mostly fail to prevent conception, but are very efficient to prevent the embryo from attaching to the matrix. This makes them like the morning-after pill, that “anti-human pesticide,” as Professor Lejeune called it when it was first marketed.

          Now that I think of it, in the “health” community, they ridiculously call the morning-after pill an “emergency contraceptive” nowadays. As if a known abortifacient could be called a contraceptive… But it demonstrates very well the general direction of the contraceptive mentality, as prophesiezed by Paul VI. Another by-product of the contraceptive mentality is the belief that a human is not human until he is born.

  11. Comment by Laura:

    I’d like to add one additional point: the concept of the “grace of state”. The idea is, there are cases where a specific individual (or group of individuals) are given the responsibility to make certain decisions as part of their vocation. The “grace of state” is that 1) they will be given the actual graces needed to make the specific decisions as they come up if they seek such graces, 2) others need to respect that authority, and 3) if others accept that decision for the right reasons, God will ensure that this becomes a source of spiritual blessing (if not always material blessing!)

    Some examples: parents’ authority over the raising of their children, bishops’ authority to teach Church doctrine in their sees, legitimate government officials’ authority to write laws binding on their constituents, and even our host’s authority to set rules on his blog. :)

    So, two specific cases pertaining to this discussion: the responsibility to decide whether the avoidance of sexual relations at a particular time to reduce the likelihood of conceiving a child lies solely with the two spouses. Matrimony gives them the grace of state they need to make such decisions. The Pope and the bishops together teach the principles, but the application of those principles can only be done by the husband and wife.

    Let me give an example: suppose that you are married, and you and your wife have jointly agreed that it is a good time to have another child. But then, your boss asks you to go on a work trip, which will take you out of town during the few days when she is expecting to be fertile. Should you go, or not? The truth is: even the Pope and all the bishops in conclave could not answer that question for you! Because only you two have the full knowledge of the situation (including implicit, intuitive, and interior knowledge) AND only you two have the grace of state to decide this. There’s no “permission slip” or “checklist” for this– only the moment-by-moment action of the Holy Spirit in your heart.

    Second, each bishop has the authority (and responsibility) to teach the Gospel in his diocese. Priests share in this responsibility to some extent for the people placed under their pastoral care, but the primary duty is to the bishop (in union with the Pope). So when the bishops together spend about 15 years preparing a new catechism, and formally publish it (with a personal exhortation from the Pope to read it as the first page, no less!) and use it as a basis for classes at all levels… just go ahead and accept it the way it is written. You don’t have the grace of state to sit in judgment over the teaching of your bishop, let alone all 2,300 of them together with the last three Popes. You only hurt yourself trying to snatch something that isn’t yours.

    Jesus is not the God of the Gotcha. He isn’t trying to sneak some cryptic rule over on you to blast you to Hell. He’s quite able to make something clear if that’s necessary. Like by having His bishops publish a catechism to clear up some of the details of applying timeless teaching to the 21st century world we live in now. Otherwise: pray always, cultivate a humble heart on fire with love, and believe that your salvation depends solely on Who God Is, and that He is Love, and that He would die under torture to keep you from suffering the consequences of your actions.

  12. Comment by Jane M:

    I have read this discussion with interest. Suppose that I said that I have been struggling with a decision for some time. I love to eat. I love the taste and texture of food in my mouth, but of course if I eat too much I get fat. Fat is bad for health. So I have been thinking of taking up regurgitation. That way I can have that lovely food taste but no caloric aftereffects. And regurgitation is a perfectly natural act that happens to all of us at moments. I don’t see how Thomas could explain that this was wrong.

    • Comment by Danby:

      Death is a perfectly natural event that happens all the time. To inflict it on yourself or other is still a sin.
      Pain is a perfectly natural experience that happens all the time. To intentionally inflict it on yourself or others is still a sin.
      Mental retardation is a perfectly natural state that happens all the time. To inflict it on yourself or others is still a sin.

      The measure is not whether something is “natural”. In fact none of these things, including regurgitation, is really natural. They are all part of the misery of the world that results from the fall of Adam. The measure is whether the act comports with God’s design of us and His intention for us.

      As far as the Dumb Ox, do not imagine that an Italian of the middle ages was unacquainted with such things. Here’s what he said about that very topic:
      “Reply to Objection 2. Although it does one good to vomit after eating too much, yet it is sinful to expose oneself to its necessity by immoderate meat or drink. “
      http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3148.htm

      On a more practical note, if you want to control your hunger and lose weight, try a low-glycemic diet. It’s worked well enough for me to lose 60 lbs in the last year.

      • Comment by Jane M:

        I think I meant that someone who cannot distinguish between NFP and birth control would have a hard time making the case against regurgitation vs controlling what you eat. That’s a great line from Saint Thomas, but then, I’m sure that most people can make this distinction, maybe not quite so carefully.

    • Comment by Roki:

      I often use eating as an analogy for this very reason: like sex, eating has multiple goods involved, one of which is nutrition, and another of which is the simple pleasure of the act itself.

      It is not wrong to eat simply for pleasure. This is what dessert is all about. There is nothing essentially immoral in eating for pleasure, though (like any good thing) it can be taken to excess, even to sinful excess.

      Nor is it wrong to abstain from eating – either from eating certain foods, or from eating altogether for a time – for the sake of health and to avoid gaining weight. There are also spiritual reasons for fasting, and occasionally saints have been known to subsist on no food but the Eucharist alone. No one is obliged to eat constantly. Again, however, this can be taken to excess – more often psychologically disordered than sinful, but wrong and harmful in either case.

      However, it is wrong to separate the pleasure of eating from the nutritive value of eating. This is exactly what bulimic regurgitation attempts to do: to separate the different goods (or “meanings” as JP2 might put it) of eating from one another, and thereby to throw the entire act into disorder. Again, with eating disorders, this is more often a psychological issue to which no blame or culpability should be attached than actual sin, but it remains harmful and wrong as an object of action.

      In case any readers are in fact struggling with the impulse to purge, there is help available. You probably can talk with your doctor about this, and he/she can point you toward some help. There are groups such as the National Eating Disorders Association that can point you to more resources.

  13. Comment by Montague:

    To put the matter criminally short, would the “one-liner” answer to the question have been something like “One throws a wrench into sex, the other doesn’t”?

  14. Comment by The Ubiquitous:

    There is one particular objection which does not seem to be answered anywhere here, not in the main post or in the comments since, the confidence of some commenters notwithstanding. Odd, because this is in fact the main point of the OP:

    There is no sincerity to the principle there.

    Response: There ought to be sincerity. In saying that natural family planning is licit, the Church does not say that it is automatically good, just that it is not automatically wrong. NFP, though allowed, can be spoiled by intention or circumstance. It simply is not spoiled by its very nature, unlike contraception.

    From here, the “grace of state” fits in nicely.

  15. Comment by Tim Ohmes:

    I personally struggled with this exact difficulty in my marriage.

    When we married my wife (from a family of 9) told me she wanted to have 12 children! I on the other hand, being from a family of 15, wanted none! We used NFP because she could see what ABC had done to her older sisters and their marriages and refused ABC.

    In our first seven years of marriage, our only fights were, “You don’t spend enough time with the kids!” and “Let’s have another one!”

    My problem was I practiced NFP with a “contraceptive attitude” which is what was condemned by Paul VI and not the pill per se. I wanted all the sex I could get without the possibility of a child being conceived. I think this attitude is what Thomas Binu is making his argument toward.

    My wife felt I was using her just for sex for my own pleasure but we did not have a large income and each and every child was an emotional and economic burden on me, but really, I did not want kids because I wanted stuff. The more stuff the better.

    When she conceived our fourth child all hell broke loose, literally. I treated her terribly and blamed NFP (read children) for all the problems in my life. She took the kids and left the night she miscarried the baby.

    Long story short, God showed me the errors of my ways, she came back and we started over again.

    We now have 7 children and my wife has miscarried 8 times. The last miscarriage nearly cost her life as she had an unknown and rare blood disorder which prevented her healing. She spent 6 months trying to stop the bleeding and 6 months recovering her strength. Another miscarriage could kill her.

    We now practice NFP for another reason other than economic.

    I have heard it referred to earlier in the comments. Stated briefly, the difference between ABC and NFP is the difference between dieting and bulimia. It isn’t the what you do, it is the why.

    My difficulty was selfishness, pure and simple. I wanted sex for fun but not babies. I did use my wife and I had also used other women before marriage. I did not realize it before but I viewed women as having value only if they were sterile eye candy, sterile sex toys, or sterile drudges. Pregnancy and motherhood were not a viable option and they made a woman a second class citizen. I think much of our world feels the same way now, whether they realize it or not.

    We men are by our nature tool users. Contraception becomes just another tool to accomplish our dreams.

    The most chilling realization I came across was in the Scripure passage from Wisdom 2:24 “… but through the devil’s envy, death came into the world.” I heard this and wondered, “How could the devil envy us?”

    One feels envious whan one does not possess a good that another has. Envy differs from jealousy in that envy seeks to damage the good or the pleasure derived from the good. What do we have the devil does not possess?

    I fould the answer facinating and chilling at the same time. Because we can have children and they are eternal creatures as we are, we can “add” to creation, this is why the term for having children is called “procreation”. We can bring into existance someone who never existed before and they will last forever. Animals cannot do this, the rest of creation cannot, and the angels can’t either. The devils are fallen angels.

    Envy creates a desire in the fallen ones to end human life in any way possible. It can be through inciting murder or wars, leading one group to deprive another group of the needs to sustain life and flourish, or inspiring a selfishness that will refuse to share with even family members or even allowing family members to exist in the first place, as in the case of a “contraceptive attitude”.

    When the commandments are listed in Exodus and Deuteronomy there is a promise to bless those who keep the commandments “to the thousandth generation” and a promise to curse those who refuse to keep them and pass them down to their offspring “to the third or fourth generation”.

    I never understood why the period of the cursing was limited. Did God stop caring after awhile? I think the books of Chronicles and Kings provide an answer. If one carefully follows the lines of the kings of Israel and Judah, a pattern emerges in the lines of faithful kings and unfaithful kings. In Judah, a reformer king would follow one or two unfaithful kings and before the “third or fourth” generation and they would in essence “restart” the count. The lines of the kings of Israel, after three (and in one case four) generations of failing to keep the commandments, became so unstable that either the father killed his sons or the sons killed the father and were later killed themselves. The reason the curse does not extend to the fifth generation is because it will never come into existance.

    My problem was I could come up with a myriad of arguments opposing my wife and the Church’s teaching on contraception. Early in our marriage, I practiced NFP exactly the way Thomas correctly suggests is immoral . Later, and especially after my wife’s last miscarriage, I seemed to be doing the same thing, avoiding pregnancy by obstaining during her fertility and having sex only during her infertile times. So what is the difference?

    It is not immoral for a woman to know where she is in her cycle. It is not immoral for a husband to have sex with his wife whether she is fertile or not. It is not immoral to abstain from sex at any time. Everybody everywhere abstains from sex 99.9% of the time. Before, I could change my mind about abstaining very quickly, literally at the cock of my wife’s eyebrow. We have seven children because I began to see them as a blessing rather than a liability. We stopped concieving because of the danger to my wife’s life. For me to force her onto ABC for my own selfish benefit would be lower than low. Women still can and do get pregnant while on contraception. She will not get pregnant without sex. Chemical contraception is not biochemically benign as others have pointed out.

    It all comes down to love. Do I love her enough to make a self-sacrifice for her benefit? Or do I love me so much I must be willing to sacrifice her for mine? Do we love ourselves so much we will not make the sacrifice of sharing our love with another child?

    Sex always involves making a sacrifice. I will sacrifice myself out of love for another or sacrifice another out of love for me.

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  17. Comment by Carbonel:

    I once told a friend of mine that the problem with the modern attitude toward divorce, wasn’t that people didn’t understand that divorce is, sometimes, necessary, but that they didn’t understand it’s an amputation.

    Contraception is a similar technology, and I’m with the Catholic church 100% in their opposition to it as such. But where, in this vale of sin and woe, it needs to be used, I don’t understand the dancing-0n-the-head-0f-a-pin machinations as to the wherewithalls. ABC, NFP, the pill, the condom: use what the doctor prescribes or abstain. We’d have more luck convincing the faithful of this truth if we were less luddite and more obedient (and trusting). But isn’t that always the case?

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