Contraception and the Reformed Faith

Jul 7th, 2010 | By | Category: Blog Posts

The Catholic Church has stood, since its inception, firmly against the use of any artificial methods of contraception. In fact, it is the only Christian institution that, as a whole, has held this teaching consistently for all of Christian history.


Death of Onan by Franc Lanjšček

Within years of the 1930 Lambeth Conference, where Anglicans became the first Christian group to officially approve the use of contraceptives, contraception came to be viewed as an unquestionable human right even by many conservative Protestants. And it’s understandable from a pragmatic point of view. It can be a difficult issue for pastors to dictate what ought and ought not happen in the bedroom affairs of their parishoners. But lately, I’ve seen a few Reformed pastors thinking about the issue out loud and coming to some negative conclusions about the practice of artificial birth control.

Tim Baly took on the topic in conjunction with RU486 “medical” abortions last year, and more recently Doug Wilson chimed in with a video explaining his thoughts on the subject. Tim Challies has also weighed in with a two-part post on contraception here and here.

What Do Today’s Reformed Pastors Say?

All three come down pretty hard on the birth-control pill because of its abortifacient potential, though Wilson doesn’t mention the pill by name, he does refer to the command against destroying life as prohibiting the use of birth-control methods that work by abortifacient means. For those unfamiliar with the issue, the pill works by making the womb inhospitable to a pregnancy. If conception does take place, it becomes very difficult for the brand new baby to attach to the walls of the uterus and begin its gestation. In essence, the baby, only a few cells big, would starve to death.

There is no solid medical evidence that this does actually happen, but the manufacturers of the pill acknowledge it as a possibility in the instructions that come with the drugs. But even if the chance is remote, Christians have no place putting the lives of their children in jeopardy and I applaud these Reformed pastors for taking a stand against it for that reason.

Though Baly doesn’t weigh in on barrier methods of contraception, like condoms, both Wilson and Challies seem to find such methods acceptable provided the reasons are within the range they consider reasonable. Their criteria tend to center around Scripture’s repeated insistence that children are a blessing and a gift of God, that they are to be desired and treasured, not avoided for personal gain or ease.

Thus, Wilson states that a newly married couple avoiding children so they can make more money are in a problematic situation, while the couple with seven kids who are using contraception to postpone a pregnancy for a short time are doing just fine.

This seems to be a pretty common line in Reformed Christianity. The pill is perhaps to be avoided, but contraception in and of itself is not morally wrong, largely because Scripture does not say it is. Wilson’s video cites a fear of putting undue, Pharisaical burdens on people and Jim Jordan cites the same concern elsewhere.

If contraception other than the pill is considered wrong by modern Reformed theologians, it is not because of the nature of the act itself, but rather the motivations behind it.

What Does the Scripture Say?

Scripture is, of course, notoriously silent on contraception, at least in explicit terms. The go-to passage is the sin of Onan in Genesis 38—the only passage that explicitly mentions contraception. But I, along with many scholars on both sides of the Tiber, find this passage insufficient for building a case against contraception by itself.

Onan’s brother died and he married his brother’s wife according to the law in order to provide her with heirs. But instead of doing that, Onan practiced coitus interruptus and spilled his seed on the ground, thus affording him sexual pleasure and releasing him from the obligation to take care of any children the union might produce. For this, Onan was struck dead by the Lord.

Many argue that Onan’s sin was not spilling his semen per se, but rather the avoidance of his vowed duty to produce heirs for his sister-in-law. This does seem to be the case and for that reason I think the passage is not capable, on its own, of providing Christians with an air-tight ban on contraception. But, fortunately, the passage is not on its own. But more about Onan in a moment.

What Did the Reformers Say?

It should be noted that the Reformers stood united with the rest of the Christian tradition in opposing all forms of contraception. Indeed, as noted above, no Christian group of any kind approved of contraception till the early 20th century.

It is interesting to note that both Calvin and Luther did see enough evidence in Onan’s sin to condemn contraception outright, but I believe that is because both were steeped in the Catholic understanding of natural law.

Calvin had this to say in his commentary on Genesis:

It is a horrible thing to pour out seed besides the intercourse of man and woman. Deliberately avoiding the intercourse, so that the seed drops on the ground, is double horrible. For this means that one quenches the hope of his family and kills the son, which could be expected, before he is born. This wickedness is now as severely as is possible condemned by the Spirit, through Moses, that Onan, as it were, through a violent and untimely birth, tore away the seed of his brother out the womb, and as cruel as shamefully has thrown on the earth. Moreover he thus has, as much as was in his power, tried to destroy a part of the human race. When a woman in some way drives away the seed out the womb, through aids, then this is rightly seen as an unforgivable crime. Onan was guilty of a similar crime. (Calvin’s Commentary on Genesis, vol. 2, part 16)

And Luther had this to say in his commentary on Genesis:

“[T]he exceedingly foul deed of Onan, the basest of wretches . . . is a most disgraceful sin. It is far more atrocious than incest and adultery. We call it unchastity, yes, a sodomitic sin. For Onan goes in to her—that is, he lies with her and copulates—and, when it comes to the point of insemination, spills the semen, lest the woman conceive. Surely at such a time the order of nature established by God in procreation should be followed. Accordingly, it was a most disgraceful crime. . . . Consequently, he deserved to be killed by God. He committed an evil deed. Therefore, God punished him” (Luther’s Commentary on Genesis)

Why the Disconnect?

I believe the disconnect we see between the Reformers and their theological descendants stems from the implications of sola Scriptura that the Reformers didn’t see.

The ecclesial chaos caused by every man being his own arbiter of spiritual truth led, slowly, to the 1930 Lambeth Conference allowing for married couples to use contraception in extreme circumstances. Thus, the ancient teaching of the Church on this subject was breeched by a small exception. As is nearly always the case with such breeches, a small exception was soon opened into the wide corridor we now see where no institution as a whole will decry contraception as an objective evil except the Catholic Church.

The reason the Catholic Church is able to take such a stand is because of its view of Sacred Tradition as another sure source of knowledge of the things of God. If the sin of Onan leaves us unsure on whether or not contraception is forbidden by God, we need not despair or decide that forbidding contraception would be a Pharisaical burden, like Wilson and Jordan. The opening paragraph of the 4th Session of the Council of Trent put it this way:

The sacred and holy, ecumenical, and general Synod of Trent,–lawfully assembled in the Holy Ghost, the Same three legates of the Apostolic Sec presiding therein,–keeping this always in view, that, errors being removed, the purity itself of the Gospel be preserved in the Church; which (Gospel), before promised through the prophets in the holy Scriptures, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, first promulgated with His own mouth, and then commanded to be preached by His Apostles to every creature, as the fountain of all, both saving truth, and moral discipline; and seeing clearly that this truth and discipline are contained in the written books, and the unwritten traditions which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down even unto us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand; (the Synod) following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety, and reverence, all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament—seeing that one God is the author of both—as also the said traditions, as well those appertaining to faith as to morals, as having been dictated, either by Christ’s own word of mouth, or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession.

In Sacred Tradition we have a sure guide because the Tradition has its roots in Christ Himself and its protection from error from the promises of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit through the Apostolic Succession of bishops in union with the Roman Pontiff. So when we have an issue like contraception, which the Tradition of the Church has taught us is a moral evil from the time of the Apostles, we can know that this tradition is a reliable guide and not the mere opinion of men.

If we follow the model of sola Scriptura, where every man is his own interpreter and Scripture is the only available means of sure knowledge of morality, it’s only a matter of time until someone decides that it’s easier to give up the fight on contraception. The same thing has happened with a number of the Church’s teachings, such as those on divorce and remarriage, female clergy and homosexuality. Without the sure defense of the Spirit-guided Magesterium of the Catholic Church, compromise is inevitable.

So What’s the Big Deal About Contraception Anyway?

In an era where nearly every other Christian group has approved at least some method of contraception, why does the Catholic Church continue to oppose it so strenuously? The reason is simple: God created the sexual act with the three-fold purposes of procreation, the unifying of the couple and pleasure. To remove any one of these elements from the sexual act is to pervert it into something other than what God intended it to be. To remove the life-giving potential of the sexual act is to change its nature.

What makes a sexual act licit or illicit is whether or not it is performed in accordance with God’s design for sexual activity. Homosexual acts are illicit because God designed sex to be between a man and a woman. Adultery and fornication between a man and a woman are illicit because God intended sex to be between a married man and woman. Rape is illicit because God designed sexual union to be entered into willingly. Contraceptive sex acts are illicit because God designed sex to produce children.

When the procreative aspect of the sexual act is removed, the act takes on a different nature than it had when procreation was a possibility. As Pope John Paul II pointed out in his Theology of the Body talks, the couple engaging in contraceptive sex is lying with their bodies. The body is saying, “I am giving you the gift of my whole self,” but one of the most incredible gifts spouses can give to each other, their reproductive capacity, is being withheld. The act becomes primarily about pleasure and thus becomes inherently selfish. The act that is supposed to reflect the life-giving union of Christ and the Church becomes an act that seeks only its own temporal satisfaction, not the self-sacrifice and self-donation that comes with the possibility of the creation of new life.

This pleasure-centered version of sex is contrary to the nature of the Triune life which, as the Divine Liturgy reminds us, is fundamentally life-giving. If marriage is to be a picture of the life of the Trinity and the relationship of Christ and the Church, we can never say “no” to life and sacrifice, which is precisely what contraceptive sex does.

I’m encouraged by the attention being given to the question of contraception in Reformed circles and I hope the conversation continues. But I say that with the fervent hope that Reformed ministers will heed the words of the Reformers, as well as the voice of the Church throughout history, rather than relying on their own interpretations of Scripture. There is much more to be said on the topic, delving more deeply into Pope John Paul II’s teaching and even the many pragmatic problems with contraception, but I hope this post will serve to start some discussion on why this ancient teaching is so crucial to our Christian life today.

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206 comments
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  1. Matt,

    Beautiful piece. I appreciate your point about the Trinity being life-giving. Love is ordered toward life and marital love, if it is properly manifest love, is to be open to and ordered toward life.

  2. Question-What did all of the sources you cite think “the seed” was at the time of writing?

  3. Thank you so much for this writing, Matt. This issue is one of the major ones that brought me home to the Catholic Church. I’m not married, not even in a relationship, and I have no relationship on the horizon. Some Protestants might say, “Well, okay, then– you can afford to agree with such a stance. You don’t have to worry about supporting children.”

    Actually though, the reverse is the case. I would really love to find and get to know a serious Catholic woman, be married, and have children– respecting God’s inherent design for sexuality and fertility. However, given that I am 37, unemployed, physically disabled, and unable to drive a car to and from a job, the fact is, I may never be able, financially, to marry– and the fact that I assent to the Church’s stance on contraception makes marriage even less likely for me. Does that mean that I will waver in my stance? No. I’m a Catholic. I will live for the truth, albeit imperfectly, and if necessary, I will go to my grave as a single man, for the truth. If I disobey on the issue of artificial contraception, then I might as well disobey anywhere and everywhere. No dice.

    This issue is also one of the major reasons that I am a Catholic “revert,” rather than an Eastern Orthodox convert. Eastern Orthodoxy, today, is all over the place on this issue. Such was not always the case. I am deeply stirred by the fact that the Catholic Church still stands firm on this crucial, “at-the-heart-of-things” issue.

  4. Tom and Christopher — Thanks so much for the kind words.

    Perry — I’m unaware of potential differences in the usage of the term “seed”. Most of what I’ve read seems to identify “seed” with semen. Any insights or resources?

  5. Matt,

    I appreciate what you’re trying to do, and think your fundamental point is correct: changing attitudes to the use of contraception by even the most zealous Protestant defenders of sola scriptura do point to the need for a living magisterium. However, you perhaps underplay the case for an anti-contraceptive reading of Genesis 38:10. Here’s what Kippley writes in his “Sex and the Marriage Covenant”, pp.326-7:

    Manuel Miguens has pointed out that a close examination of the text shows that God condemned Onan for the specific action he performed, not for his anti-Levirate intentions. He notes that the translation “he spilled his seed on the ground” fails to do full justice to the Hebrew expression. The Hebrew verb shichet never means “to spill” or “waste”. Rather, it means to act perversely. The text also makes it clear that his perverse action was related toward the ground, not against his brother. “His perversion or corruption consists in his action itself, not precisely in the result and goal of his act… In a strict interpretation the text says that what was evil in the sight of the Lord was what Onan actually did (asher asah); the emphasis in this sentence of verse 10 does not fall on what he intended to achieve, but on what he did.”…

    In the context of the entire chapter, Genesis 38, it is clear that Onan is only one of three persons who violated the Levirate. His father, Judah, and his younger brother, Shelah, also violated the Levirate law, and Judah openly admitted his guilt in verse 26. After Tamar had tricked Judah into having intercourse with her and getting her pregnant, thus getting Tamar accused of harlotry, he admitted, “She is in the right rather than I. This comes of my not giving her to my son Shelah to be his wife.” When three people are guilty of the same crime but only one of them receives the death penalty from God, common sense requires that we ask if that one did something the others did not do. The answer is obvious: only Onan went through the motions of the covenantal act of intercourse but then defrauded its purpose and meaning; only Onan engaged in the contraceptive behavior of withdrawal…

    The Law of the Levirate and the punishment for violators are spelled out in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. An aggrieved wido could bring the offending brother-in-law before the elders; if he still refused to do his duty, she could “take the sandal off his foot, spit in his face, and proncounce the following words. ‘This is what we do to the man who does not restore his brother’s house,’ and the man shall be surnamed in Israel, House-of-the-Unshod” (Deut. 25:9-10). That would be embarrassing, but it is a far cry from the death penalty meted out by God to Onan. It must be remembered, also, that Deuteronomy has no hesitation about the death penalty for serious sexual sins: chapter 22:22-3 prescribes the death penalty for adultery and for rape.

  6. The question of contraception is not a question of science but of morality. It is irrelevant what the sources quoted thought the “seed” was.

  7. Chrisopher,

    I think you confuse various opinions expressed by various Orthodox persons with the Orthodox Church being “all over the place” on this isue. In none of the joint theological dialogs with Rome has Rome ever to date brought up a supposed discrepancy or deficiency with the Orthodox position to my knowledge.

  8. Tim,

    I beg to differ. They take contraceptive methods to be immoral because they take to them to be necessarily abortificants. And they take them to be so because they took the “seed” to be fully formed human beings in small. Men contained within themselves already human beings that were implanted in women. Women contributed nothing to the human being other than sustenance and a safe place for gestation. Hence women were often compared to the “soil” or “ground” for the “seed.”

    Consequntly, on a Stoic, Platonic or Aristotelian basis, any contraceptive method would be an abortificant. So the moral principle that murder is wrong would always be applicable. This is why, particularly for the Stoics the unitive function was essentially connected to procreation. Natural Law Theory didn’t just pop out of thin air. It is heavily indebted to Stoicism and the Stoic conception of “spermatikos” or “seeds.”

    So, the moral principle was applicable because human beings were involved. But we know that human beings aren’t necessarily involved in all forms of contraception and so this is reason for thinking that the moral principle isn’t necessarily always involved either. If you take a look at the sources cited above, I think it is detectable that this is what they thought a “seed” was and I think any secondary literature on the biological understanding of the time will bear out that they thought the “seed” was an individual human being in small. The issue then seems more complicated.

  9. Doug Wilson’s book Fidelity influenced me greatly at the begining of my married life. (7 pregnancies ago) His main theme seems to be “check your attitude” and make sure you have a proper biblical understanding of the blessings of children. That is a great attitude as far as it goes, and will stear people clear of a lot of pitfalls.

    The aspect of Catholic teaching on this topic that is missing with Wilson is the idea of contraceptive sex at any time, no matter how positive your attitude towards childrenas being basically mutual masterbation. It becomes a self oriented act with pleasure as it’s goal, and the spouse happens to be in the room. If you engage in the marital act when you are actively preventing the physical completion of the act, it is quite obvious to both people present what the goal of the act truly was. Physical gratification. This differs very little from a teenage boy alone with a porno mag.

    I am so grateful for the Catholic churches firm, clear, principled stand on this issue. It makes it easier for people like me to obey Christ on this issue when we know definitivelywhat the right thing is to do!

  10. Perry — I see what you were getting at now with the meaning of the word seed. But the Catholic Church opposes contraception in all forms because it destroys the meaning of the sexual act by removing it’s life-creating potential. Whatever the stoics thought about sperm is irrelevant since the Church’s opposition to it fundamentally has nothing to do with abortifacient potential.

  11. I’m not sure I see why contraception is so bad. If I accepted the Catholic Church’s morality on this point it would have to be based on the authority of the Church.

    Why, for example, is sex with contraception purely seeking pleasure? Sex and the pleasure it gives also bring the husband and wife closer to one another. After all, there are plenty of times where a couple has sex without contraception, but also without any possibility of conceiving (maybe the wife or husband is unable, too old, or at the wrong time of the week). It is still “unifying” in some sense.

    It seems that, in order to defend the Church’s ban on contraception, you must ignore the fact that sex brings a husband and wife closer together whether they use contraception or not. You must say that when the husband seeks to please his wife and himself (and vice versa) that this is selfish and mere pleasure seeking. But is it selfish if, in addition to their own pleasure, they are seeking A) to please their spouse and B) to bring themselves closer to one another?

    David Meyer, what you said here is exactly what I’m talking about…

    If you engage in the marital act when you are actively preventing the physical completion of the act, it is quite obvious to both people present what the goal of the act truly was. Physical gratification. This differs very little from a teenage boy alone with a porno mag.

    You seem to forget (or disagree) that each spouse is also seeking to please the other (in a good, healthy relationship, that is) and to grow closer to one another. Would you really accuse your married Protestant brethrens’ sexual lives with their spouses to be little different from a teenage boy with a porno mag?

    I also take issue with this quote in the article…

    What makes a sexual act licit or illicit is whether or not it is performed in accordance with God’s design for sexual activity. Homosexual acts are illicit because God designed sex to be between a man and a woman. Adultery and fornication between a man and a woman are illicit because God intended sex to be between a married man and woman. Rape is illicit because God designed sexual union to be entered into willingly. Contraceptive sex acts are illicit because God designed sex to produce children.

    If sex’s ability to produce children is just as necessary for it to be licit as having a man and a woman, a husband and wife, freely entering into union, then neither natural family planning nor sex for the infertile would be licit. I’m certain there are nuances that need to be brought out here. Otherwise, this could be misleading.

    Finally, I thought I’d point out one Protestant who has taken this very seriously. The recent book “The Christian Case Against Contraception” by Bryan C. Hodge is a good example. The problem is, as far as I know, he finds natural family planning just as much a novelty in Christian tradition as artificial contraception.

  12. Perry,

    No, that is not the argument the fathers made at all. Their argument did not depend on the “seed” being a small “human” so whether or not they believed it is irrelevant. The only thing that [whether it was human] could possibly affect would be the severity of the sin, not whether or not it was a sin. It is a sin because it is a crime against nature, as Matt explained in the article and as the fathers taught consistently.

    e.g. St. Clement of Alexandria:

    Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted (The Instructor of Children 2:10:91:2 [A.D. 191]).

    To have coitus other than to procreate children is to do injury to nature (ibid., 2:10:95:3).

    Notice, his argument is not “because it is a human” but rather “because it is a divine institution for the propagation of man.” Then notice that it is an injury to nature (i.e. a sin) to have coitus for reasons other than to procreate children. His argument is the same natural law argument that Matt made in the article. It has nothing to do with whether the seed is human.

    In order to avoid a litany of quotes from the fathers, anyone interested can visit this link to see additional examples of fathers arguing along those same lines and not along the lines Perry claimed. (Such fathers include Lactantius, Epiphanius, Augustine, Chrysostom, and Jerome.)

    The claim that the reason they prohibited contraception was because of limited scientific knowledge is pure speculation and skepticism. It is not actually in the text of the fathers. Of course, many contraceptive methods then and now are abortifacient or potentially abortifacient so they did argue it to be the equivalent of murder on such occasions (because it was).

    Perhaps they all believed that the seed was sort of a small human but again, it is irrelevant because their argument never mentioned nor depended on that. We use the exact argument that the fathers (Eastern and Western) used then: to engage in the procreative act while deliberately preventing procreation is a grave sin.

    An act against nature is a sin. Artificial contraception is an act against nature. Therefore artificial contraception is a sin. That’s the argument. It has nothing to do with science.

  13. Matt,

    I understand that, but the question is to what extent that position turns on a faulty biology and a committment to Natural Law Theory, which is or seems to be indebted to Stoic metaphysics to some serious degree or another.

    The claim that Rome opposes it has to do with preventing the act’s life creating potential seems quite Stoic to me, in fact, one that any theological position could affirm (Christian or non) just so long as they affirmed Natural Law Theory. The claim then seems to turn on the idea that the life creating potential of the act is an intrinsic constituent turns on the notion of what constitutes the seed. But if the seed isn’t that way regarding a telos, but is unformed or partially formed, matters seem to be different.

  14. Glory to Jesus Christ!
    Perry,
    I think one reason why Catholics haven’t brought this issue of Orthodox confusion/disunity over contraception is charity.

    For an example of discussing people being confused on the matter, I would take Metropolitan Jonah’s witness on the matter. The blogger who has his talks on this issue posted here would actually argue that his two addresses are contradictory. Again, it’s not something I would bring up if I were part of a delegation for reuniting our Churches, but Christopher has a point about this being a point of contention. May God guide us to unity on this issue, and all issues.

  15. Deane,

    Then perhaps you could give me a reason to think that was the reason or that there was Orthodox confusion or disunity. If by the latter you mean that some Orthodox are not well informed, I heartily agree, but the same goes for Catholics, who in large numbers reject at least what they take to be their church’s teaching on the matter.

    Second, Catholics often wish to argue that there are a range of opinions within Orthodoxy on say the Filioque or papal primacy and yet they do not refrain from bringing up those issues in official dialog.

    Third, I think often with respect to well informed Orthodox persons, the problem is that people often take remarks to be contradictory because they understand such comments through the lens of Natural Law Theory and its attending ethical structures, rather than on the distinctive soil of Orthodox theology.

    Fourth, it is certainly something that had better be brought up in dialog if in fact the Orthodox differ from Rome on this matter. True unity can only be accomplished with a unity in faith. On that principle I do not doubt in the slightest that Rome agrees. To ignore it out of charity is to materially foment future schism.

  16. Perry,

    If the differing attitudes toward artificial contraception in Eastern Orthodoxy are simply a matter of various peoples’ opinion, where can one go to find Eastern Orthodoxy’s official, *authoritatively declared position* on the issue?

    I’m not bringing this up to further disunity between the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy *at all*, believe me, my brother. I would love to see unity on this issue!

  17. Tim,

    You assert that it is not relevant as to how they understood seed, but the argument doesn’t go through on just any understanding of it. In order to make your argument work, you’d need to show that out of a range of understandings, the argument still goes through.

    To say that such a thing is a crime against nature depends in part on their ethical theory and what they thought “against nature” meant. I don’t think they uniformly meant “against nature” in the sense that Natural Theory has in mind.

    I am quite aware of what Clement of Alexandria says, but that of course can depend on what he takes the seed to be. The question is, why does Clement think it is a sin? Why is the seed not to be vainly ejaculated? What is it about the seed that makes this so?

    Someone who thought that the seed was a human being would also think that procreation was thus a divine institution and such to ejaculate vainly was contrary to divine institution. Hence it being of divine institution is not either incompatible with what I wrote nor does it necessarily imply that it is the sole reason for its prohibition. The same is true with respect to what they took “conception” to be.
    I can’t see that there is anything in the citations you brought forward that addresses those questions and so I think they leave my points untouched.

    I am well aware of the citations at the link you provide, but I think they leave my remarks untouched and amount to little more than spoof texting.

    That said, I wasn’t aware that Lactantius was a saint and a “father” in the Catholic Church.
    As for pure speculation, I would direct you to Aristotle’s On the Generation of Animals as to the biology of the matter at the time. The same will be true by looking at primary texts of the Stoics as well as the heap of secondary literature on Stoic biology. Also, the claim that my view is grounded in skepticism is not relevant. Sometimes skeptics have good arguments. So the question is, not whether the argument is skeptical or not, but whether it is a good argument or not. Hence to dismiss it because it is “skepticism” is an ad hominem and so can be dismissed out of hand.

    Some of the sources you refer to also argue against what we now know to be non-abortificant methods as if they were abortifiants. This is especially true with say Tertullian.

    To claim that they never argued on the basis that I proffered is a claim that I really don’t see any substantial reason to agree with. An analysis done by Catholics and non-alike, conservative and liberal shows what they thought conception was and what they thought the seed was.

    To argue that an act against nature has nothing to do with science is to imply that nature has nothing to do with science, empirical or metaphysical. That seems quite strange, especially if theology is a science so that an act against nature as sin has nothing to do with theology.

  18. Christopher,

    The same place one would look to find out and judge if Leo’s Tome was Orthodox or not.

  19. Tim,

    It is a question of science (biology), Natural Law, Reason, and, thus, morality.

    I have to explain this logic to non-Catholic Christians and atheists alike who attempt to apply false motives to the Church’s hard-line teaching. It is the same logic applied to what makes homosexuality and masterbation wrong and unnatural.

    Biologically speaking, no one can deny (on any basis of reality) that sexual organs serve one function, to procreate. God created biology and Natural Law. Using sexual organs in any way other than what was their design is opposed to science and Natural Law. What I tell atheists is that it is science and Natural Law that make contraception, masterbation, beastiality, homosexuality, etc. unreasonable, unnatural, and wrong. Because God ordered these things, science and Natural Law are never opposed to God’s will. Therefore, directly opposing science and Natural Law, one is directly opposing the will of God, who ordered them. Thus, the Church rightly declares that these actions are immoral.

    It is not either/or, it is both.

  20. Tim,

    Oops. Sorry, I just noticed your response. Just take mine as complimentary.

  21. Gentlemen, if I may chime in here as a woman, a blessed mother of four who always wanted more, and one who underwent a medical crisis during the birth of her fourth child, during which the heart rending decision was made to follow the doctor’s recommendation to allow a permanent contraceptive procedure, the absolutism I’m hearing in this conversation leads me to despair. If sexual intimacy that cannot result in conception is not merely void of any spiritual or marital meaning, but a sin, does that mean that all women in my position should remain in celibate marriages for the rest of their lives, in order to avoid this sin? I can’t imagine being accepted into the Catholic Church in my permanently damaged condition! If someone has some hope to offer that my marriage is not considered meaningless by the Church, I’d appreciate hearing it!

  22. Annette,

    To be fair, the Catholic Church is not speaking in cases where an impediment is due to a natural defect. I surely think, but will allow Catholics here to correct me should I be wrong, that your case as you’ve described it is beyond the confines of this issue. They are concerned with the secual act per se, apart from defects.

  23. Annette — The Church does not have a problem with your position. You are not choosing to not have children. That choice was taken from you due to your medical situation. The contracepting couple is actively saying “No” to life whereas you are leaving it up to God. As long as you’re not actively trying to avoid children with artificial means, the Church has no problem with you and your husband’s sexual activity and it can be meaningful as anybody else’s.

  24. Perry,

    In order to make your argument work, you’d need to show that out of a range of understandings, the argument still goes through.

    No I wouldn’t. My argument is has nothing to do with what the fathers might have privately believed or what their motives were for what they said. My argument is simply that the fathers argued X. For that, all I need to do is to show the fathers arguing X. I did that.

    You asked:

    The question is, why does Clement think it is a sin? Why is the seed not to be vainly ejaculated? What is it about the seed that makes this so?

    Your answer: “Because they thought it was a man.”

    St. Clement’s answer: “Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man” (And the other fathers answer likewise.)

    Someone who thought that the seed was a human being would also think that procreation was thus a divine institution and such to ejaculate vainly was contrary to divine institution.

    That’s right. If he told us that his reason for believing it a sin was the latter, then I think its safe to believe that his reason for believing it is a sin was, in fact, the latter. He told us that as shown above. Therefore I conclude that his reason for believing it a sin was the latter.

    I am well aware of the citations at the link you provide, but I think they leave my remarks untouched and amount to little more than spoof texting.

    No. I said the fathers argued X. Then I showed them arguing X. That proves my point unless you want to show that when they said X they really meant something other than X. (I mean show it, not just state it). Alternatively, you could attempt to show that those quotes are not accurate or badly translated or something like that. You can’t just say that in spite of what they said, they privately believed something else. Showing that the fathers argued X is not spoof texting when someone falsely claimed that the fathers argued Y. And far from leaving the claim “the fathers argued Y” untouched, it directly addresses it.

    That said, I wasn’t aware that Lactantius was a saint and a “father” in the Catholic Church.

    Me neither. Who said he was a saint and a father? I lumped him in generally with the fathers – which itself is an ambiguous term. I never claimed he was a father directly and I certainly never claimed he was a saint. Doesn’t matter anyway, if you wont take the word of Chrysostom, et al, whose testimony could I possibly provide that would sway you?

    As for pure speculation, I would direct you to Aristotle’s On the Generation of Animals as to the biology of the matter at the time.

    I’m not claiming that it was speculation on what the science of the time believed at that time. I’m claiming that it was speculation that the fathers *really* argued for reason Y when they in fact gave reason X.

    Hence to dismiss it because it is “skepticism” is an ad hominem and so can be dismissed out of hand.

    I didn’t dismiss it because it was skepticism. I contradicted it by showing the fathers arguing against contraception for manifestly different reasons than you gave. I probably shouldn’t have said ‘skeptic’ or even ‘speculation’ but I said it because you’re giving the same faulty argument that liberals give for women’s ordination, “they all thought women were deformed males and thats why they didn’t let them be priestesses.” What they thought of women at that time is 100% irrelevant to their arguments unless they gave those specific arguments. Likewise with contraception.

    Some of the sources you refer to also argue against what we now know to be non-abortificant methods as if they were abortifiants. This is especially true with say Tertullian.

    That’s an issue of gravity of sin – not of being a sin versus being a natural act.

    To claim that they never argued on the basis that I proffered is a claim that I really don’t see any substantial reason to agree with.

    You are right here. I have not given substantial reason to believe that they never argued the way you proffered. I think the burden of proof is on you here though. If you want to show that they did, please feel free. My fundamental claim is that they argued as we are arguing now. I showed them doing so. Now it’s your turn to show what you’re claiming or else it begins to look like table pounding.

    To argue that an act against nature has nothing to do with science is to imply that nature has nothing to do with science, empirical or metaphysical. That seems quite strange, especially if theology is a science so that an act against nature as sin has nothing to do with theology.

    Well, in one sense I can agree with this. Cutting off one’s arm is an act against nature and science can indeed study and understand this. What I meant to claim here is that the particular scientific question of whether the sperm is a small human is irrelevant to the argument of whether we should believe what the fathers said on the subject because they argued on the basis of it being a corruption of the sexual act. That argument alone suffices to show that contraception was traditionally condemned by the Church. Therefore, even if you could provide evidence of the fathers arguing against all contraceptive methods on the grounds of it being abortifacent, then you would not show it to be a mistake in the tradition of the Church on the basis of limited science.

  25. The argument about the limitation of scientific understand is, incidentally, one of the most common arguments used against religion in general.

  26. understanding*

  27. Thanks, that is a great relief to hear!

  28. Matt,

    Thanks for this. I might add that in 1930 Pope Pius XI wrote the following in Casti connubii [On Christian Marriage]:

    And now, Venerable Brethren, we shall explain in detail the evils opposed to each of the benefits of matrimony. First consideration is due to the offspring, which many have the boldness to call the disagreeable burden of matrimony and which they say is to be carefully avoided by married people not through virtuous continence (which Christian law permits in matrimony when both parties consent) but by frustrating the marriage act. Some justify this criminal abuse on the ground that they are weary of children and wish to gratify their desires without their consequent burden. Others say that they cannot on the one hand remain continent nor on the other can they have children because of the difficulties whether on the part of the mother or on the part of family circumstances.

    But no reason, however grave, may be put forward by which anything intrinsically against nature may become conformable to nature and morally good. Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious.

    Small wonder, therefore, if Holy Writ bears witness that the Divine Majesty regards with greatest detestation this horrible crime and at times has punished it with death. As St. Augustine notes, “Intercourse even with one’s legitimate wife is unlawful and wicked where the conception of the offspring is prevented. Onan, the son of Juda, did this and the Lord killed him for it.” [On Adulterous Marriage, Bk II, n.12]

    Since, therefore, openly departing from the uninterrupted Christian tradition some recently have judged it possible solemnly to declare another doctrine regarding this question, the Catholic Church, to whom God has entrusted the defense of the integrity and purity of morals, standing erect in the midst of the moral ruin which surrounds her, in order that she may preserve the chastity of the nuptial union from being defiled by this foul stain, raises her voice in token of her divine ambassadorship and through Our mouth proclaims anew: any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin. (Casti connubii 53-56)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  29. Tim,

    You misrepresent my view. I didn’t claim that the fathers held “private opinions” about biology. This is a straw man.

    I agree that the Fathers argued “X” and “X” was dependent on a specific view of biology. The argument then only seems to go through on that assumption. Putting forth the argument without defining what constitutes “seed” “conception” and “nature” leaves my position untouched and shows that yours hasn’t yet been demonstrated. The fact that the Fathers freely group the condemnations of abortificants with other practices supports my contention.

    I already addresses Clement’s statement about divine institution. Do you wish to argue that he thinks it is wrong based on a matter of an external law only or because of an internal principle as well? If the former, then the Catholic position as grounded in an internal principle cannot appeal to Clement for support. If the latter, then the questions I raised are quite relevant. Either way it seems your position seems to be in trouble.

    The question is whether the latter entails the former or not. If it does, that is, divine institution entails the faulty biology, then he’s clearly wrong. If it doesn’t entail it, the Catholic position can’t appeal to it for support since that position takes it as immoral because of intrinsic principles of Natural Law.

    Since I concede the form of argument, showing that they used such an argument leaves my position untouched, since said argument turns on what they took seed, conception and such to be. So no, it does not prove your point. They incorrectly apply a correct moral principle because of their faulty biology. I accept the principle (murder is immoral) but can’t see how it applies here.

    You mention “private belief” but I have never argued from what they supposedly privately believed. I argued from what they publically took the facts of biology to be. So again, your gloss is a misrepresentation and a straw man.

    It is spoof texting when an analysis of the relevant terms, upon debate on this issue for over a hundred years has turned, is left out and such texts are proffered bare naked.

    Yes, you lumped him in with the fathers. I took that to be you saying he was a father. If you don’t think he’s a father, why list him with them? If he isn’t, what he thought is of limited value as far as normative teaching goes.

    Do Catholics take “Father” in relation to church fathers to be an ambiguous term? Aren’t there conditions for one to be a father in the Catholic Church or has the Magisterium left that undefined? Where would I look for the magisterial definition on what constitutes a Father?

    As for Chrysostom, I accept him as a Father. Now if we look at the citation you posted, he is arguing against castration and abortificants and takes castration in terms of preventing “conception” to be tantamount to murder. He does so because he thinks that the seeds are human beings in small. This is why the reference to the Manicheans is relevant. I can’t see any reasoning here that applies if the seed isn’t a human being and so that applies to non-abortificant methods. If so, can you point them out to me?

    To say that my argument was that they argued Y instead of X is to misrepresent my position. My position concedes the form of argument “X” but notes that said arguments depends on the assumption of Y, namely the faulty biology.

    It struck me that you dismissed it as “skepticism” by writing “The claim that the reason they prohibited contraception was because of limited scientific knowledge is pure speculation and skepticism”

    I am not in fact giving the same faulty argument that liberals give for WO. First, that argument is based on false premises. The consensus partum regarding a male only priesthood didn’t turn on Aristotelian biology and plenty of the fathers contradict that biological outlook primarily due to biblical arguments. Second, I take it as uncontroversial that the Fathers and other Christian writers had the same faulty biological view and an analysis, even by Catholics bears this out. Third, tarring me with liberalism is irrelevant to whether the facts are what I say they are. So far, I haven’t seen a reason to think that the facts aren’t that way.

    You will need to clarify your remarks regarding Tertullian. Do you mean to say that barrier methods that Tertullian argued against were not mortal sins, but somehow lesser since he was in fact wrong that such methods were abortificants? If so, then the Catholic position is wrong, since it takes barrier methods to be sin. If you are saying something else, please clarify.

    I’ve gestured at what I take to be the uncontroversial academic consensus regarding the biology of human reproduction at the time, which you seem to have conceded to me. I’ve also referred to one of the most vociferous opponents of contraception, Tertullian as evidence of the line of reasoning I have offered, which you have left untouched.

    If you want names, dates and an extensive discussion, that’ll take me considerably more time. Perhaps I will make a whole blog post about it over at EP and then you can come and discuss it there.

    You claim again that the status of the seed is irrelevant to the question of the naturalness of the act. I know you claim this, but I need to see a reason to think these are separable. They argued it was such a corruption because of what they believed about seeds, conception and implantation.

    I agree that the Apostolic Church has always condemned “contraception” because that always entailed, given the biology, murder. If I am right, then it would uphold the moral principle, but show that its application was mistaken.

  30. It’s interesting to hear how many of you were influenced by this issue (no pun intended) to come into the Catholic Church. I will admit that for me, this is one of the CC’s teachings that I have a huge problem with. And before you jump all over me, I’ll go ahead and admit that maybe I am a horrible, selfish person. I’ve been called way worse, believe me.

    I have loads of questions, but maybe I’ll just ask one: Is it OK for a man to sleep with his wife during a time when she is not ovulating, but NOT sleep with her when she is? And if so, how is that not just a total betrayal of Catholicism’s high ideals concerning what sex is for? I guess that was two questions.

    It seems to me that if this principle is lived out, a couple should pretty much have one child a year until the wife reaches age 44 or so. I have more to say, but I’ll quit while I’m ahead (or at least before I dig the hole for myself any deeper).

  31. Jason,

    There are three frequent questions about this teaching:

    (1) Does Catholic teaching mean that infertile couples should not have sexual relations?

    Answer: No. Procreation is not merely a human act; God acts as well. There is nothing immoral with having sexual relations with one’s spouse if one or both are known to be infertile, so long as the sexual act itself is intrinsically open to life. The couple is not intentionally thwarting nature.

    (2) Why is it wrong to use contraceptives, but not wrong to regulate births by having sexual relations only during the woman’s infertile period? Both cases seem to be morally equivalent.

    Answer: Non-contracepted sexual intercourse during the infertile period shares the same secondary end as contracepted sex, i.e. avoiding pregnancy. It is not that shared [secondary] end but the difference in means that makes contracepted sex intrinsically disordered and the use of the infertile period not intrinsically disordered. The contracepting couple deliberately sterilize fertile intercourse; the couple practicing natural family planning does not do so. They deliberately abstain from fertile intercourse.

    (3) Under what conditions is it permissible to regulate birth?

    Answer: The regulation of birth is an aspect of responsible fatherhood and motherhood, and is objectively morally acceptable when it is pursued by the spouses without external pressure, it is practiced not out of selfishness, but only for serious reasons, (not ‘a kid would hinder our fun’), and it is practiced with methods that conform to objective criteria of morality: i.e. periodic continence and use of the infertile period.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  32. Perry,
    I do not mean that we should gloss the issue. I think it’s not the issue that drives East and West apart in the 21st century. Rather, if there is only one issue dividing Orthodox and Catholics, I think that it’s the papacy.

    My Orthodox friends who are converts and ardent believers in Tradition differ on this issue, most of them thinking that Rome is too stringent. This is a simple fact of a differing opinion. When I saw Metropolitan Jonah give a Lenten retreat this year he spoke against the bishops and priests in Orthodoxy who say nothing or give mixed messages on this matter.

    Going to the matter of unity in truth, one thing that’s important then is to think about dialogue. How can we talk about agreement between the Orthodox view and the Catholic view when the leaders of the East are not unified? Since they are unified on the issue of the Pope (more so, at least), this takes precedence at meetings such as the Joint International Theological Commission. I’m looking forward to seeing what they release when they discuss the sequel to the Ravenna Document.

    Blessings,
    J. Andrew Deane

  33. Andrew Deane,

    I agree that it doesn’t and that is the point. The above post makes it into a wedge issue of apologetic value, not only against the Reformed, but implicitly over against the Orthodox.

    There are a number of things that divide us theologically. One is the papacy, but from our position, that view entails other problems, a denial of the essence/energies distinction, monergism in key parts of soteriological, and of course the Filioque.

    The achievement of a unified phronoma, mind or heart, on the matter is just that, an achievement in the heirarchy in synergy. The variety of expressed different opinions does not imply a lack of a means to reach that goal. It implies that either such an achievement has not taken place or that some bishops have been unfaithful. Certainly Orthodox bishops do not corner the market in that respect, so let us be fair and frank. CAtholics have their own bishops who fall short of that standard.

    I would think that what Rome puts on the ecumenical docket would and has in fact included other issues than the Papacy (and the Filioque) and this has been so since Florence. The issue of ecclesiastical divorce has also been discussed, but to my knowledge, not a supposed error on the part of the Orthodox on contraception. Issues in moral dogmatic theology then are not beyond the pale, nor should they be.

  34. […] July 9, 2010 by seekknockpray Well, CTC just posted something on contraception here. It really is quite ironic that within a few days of my own post, they put something […]

  35. Perry,

    In your conversation with Tim, you seem to be claiming that the Catholic position on the immorality of contracepted sex presupposes that the semen contains actual human beings. Since we (moderns) know that semen does not contain actual human beings, therefore, (you seem to be saying) there is no basis for the Catholic position on the immorality of contracepted sex. Is that your position, or am I misunderstanding you?

    If I am not misunderstanding your claim, then your position would seem to require that only for cannibals (such as this guy [warning, disturbing]) who eat living humans would it be wrong to induce vomiting after eating so that one can eat again. So long as one wasn’t eating actual living humans, inducing vomiting so that one could eat more would not be a disordered act. But if you acknowledge that even when not eating living human beings, inducing vomiting so that one can eat more is a disordered act, then why can’t onanism or contracepted sex be a disordered act, regardless of the ontology of semen?

    In addition, if you think the Church’s position on contracepted sex presupposes that the semen contains actual human beings, then why do you think masturbation, homosexual sex, and bestiality are wrong? Surely not divine voluntarism, right? So if you agree that these acts are intrinsically disordered, then I don’t see why you think that contracepted sex can’t likewise be an intrinsically disordered act, but necessarily presupposes that semen contains actual human beings.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  36. I am wondering if JJS isn’t selling the depth of the marital act a bit short with viewing it solely in terms of restricting the conception of a child. As I have been sifting through all of Pope John Paul’s General Audiences the beauty and complexity of the marriage covenant is extremely fulfilling.

    The issue doesn’t seem to be that a specific act isn’t procreative (since we know that a sexual act during the infecund period is not generally capable of procreation). However, is the specific sexual act fully unitive and upholding the dignity of the human person which was designed by God?

    I am beginning to understand that the argument most bring against the Church is a watered down understanding of the beauty found in the covenant of marriage…

    I have also begun to see that the paradigm through which Catholics speak at times seems so different than our brothers it becomes difficult to discuss such issues…

    For example last night I was speaking with my mother-in-law about creation and what humans were created for… our views of humanity varied so much that it became difficult to continue the discussion (who knew she viewed procreation as something that probably wouldn’t have occured if the fall never happened… which is viewed in light that without the fall we wouldn’t need a savior and therefore what would the purpose of procreation be?)… That belief came so far out of left field I was actually stunned for a while….

    I hope to post more on this site as time goes on since my passion and love for our Church has driven me into a M.A program in Theology. I hope in the end to earn a Phd and teach at a University.

  37. Bryan,

    I read Perry’s comments as attempting to offer an undercutting defeater for one line of evidence that supports the RC view of contraception. The post (and Tim and you) appealed to the church fathers as (at least partial) justification for the proposition that contraception is wrong. Perry wasn’t trying to rebut the conclusion (i.e. by saying ‘contraception is not wrong’). Rather, he was trying to reduce the warrant for accepting the conclusion by saying that the ECF’s believed ‘contraception is wrong’ because they believed ‘semen contains little people’. But since the latter is false, the ECFs had less (or no?) justification for believing the former.

  38. Dear Jason,

    To tack on to Bryan’s comment, I think of the issue this way. The use of artificial means to stop or terminate a pregnancy are per se immoral. The use of natural means to avoid pregnancy within a marriage are objectively licit, but may be may be rendered illicit if there is sinful subjective intent. So it’s not: condoms wrong, NFP delays right. It’s: condoms always wrong, NFP delays may be right or may be wrong.

    So I do not see the use of NFP to avoid pregnancy (i.e., intercourse during the infertile phase) as a blank moral check. There is still a burden on the couple to orient the use of themselves and their sexual relations toward God. Because this becomes highly subjective, it is highly case-specific. A couple does not need to have approximately one child per year until the wife is about 44 years old. (BTW, because breastfeeding suppresses ovulation, this would not even normally occur.) The couple can delay or avoid pregnancy if there are ‘serious’ reasons to do so. Indeed, it could be wrong for the couple to have that many children, as there is a duty to pursue the principle of “responsible parenthood” in all cases. For example, if my wife would face serious medical risks with a pregnancy right now, but I refused to abstain during the fertile phase because I did not want to control my sexual appetite, that would itself be a sin, I believe.

    Humane Vitae is a surprisingly short and easy read. I highly recommend it for a better understanding of the Catholic position: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae_en.html.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  39. Dear Annette,

    Thank you for reading and sharing. I have a favor to ask of you. Would you consider speaking with a local priest about your question? We are happy to answer questions here, but some moral questions — especially when sensitive personal information and possible past sins are at play — may best be suited for priests’ pastoral training and gifts of ordination.

    I am confident that your surgical sterilization does not have to be a permanent bar to marital intimacy, but I also believe that more needs to be asked and said before a Catholic can give the moral ‘all clear.’ If my wife and I had chosen surgical sterilization prior to becoming Catholic, this would not render all subsequent relations illicit, but would (I believe) make necessary a confession of the sterilization itself. I think this would be a good case for spiritual direction from a priest — and you don’t have to be Catholic to receive this direction.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  40. Annette — I meant to mention what Tom did as well. It’s not that it’s likely that there’s anything wrong with the situation, but we are by no means spiritual directors. A talk with a priest would definitely be in order to clear up these questions authoritatively. Thanks for bringing it up, Tom.

    –Matt

  41. Ryan,

    I would have to see the case that the only reason the ECFs believed that onanism is wrong is because they (allegedly) believed that semen contains actual human beings. Otherwise, just as recognizing that self-induced vomiting (for the purpose of eating more) is intrinsically disordered doesn’t require believing that vomit contains actual persons, and just as recognizing that masturbation, homosexual acts, and bestiality are intrinsically disordered doesn’t require any position on the ontology of semen, so I see no justification in assuming that the only reason the ECFs believed that onanism is wrong is that they (allegedly) believed that semen contains actual human persons.

    But, as a side note, the early Church Fathers also believed that ensoulment takes place in the womb, and in that case, semen would at most contain potential human beings.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  42. JJS — Thanks for commenting. Always glad to see you drop by.

    Why is it different to abstain from sex during fertility than to use a condom? Because the one is doing something and the other is doing nothing.

    To engage in contraceptive sex is to act sexually in such a way as to willfully remove one of the God-given components of the sexual act. As with the other examples I mentioned in my post of homosexuality, fornication and adultery, the details matter very much.

    At its core, NFP practiced correctly and for the right reasons, is the act of denying yourself the pleasure of the marital embrace with your spouse for the greater good of your family. And, if couples choose to abstain during fertile periods but come together during infertile periods, the sexual act will be open to life, should such a thing occur, as has been sometimes known to happen.

    So the difference between the contracepting couple and the couple rightly practicing NFP is that when the couple does choose to make love, the act is always open to life. The contracepting couple are actively choosing against life.

    You can get $1,500 dollars by working hard or you can get $1,500 dollars by robbing a liquor store at gunpoint. Just because you end up with the same result doesn’t mean the action you took to get it is morally equivalent.

  43. TCD — Thanks for your comment. I’d like to address two things you said.

    First, I don’t think that the sex lives of married couples who contracept, particularly our Protestant brothers, are devoid of meaning. But by involving contraception in their sexual relationship, they are removing a God-given gift from their sexual lives and using means that cause them to lie to each other with their bodies.

    When a man makes love to a woman, an act that says, “I love you with my whole being,” and then physically rips his reproductive potential out of her body so she can’t have that gift, something is askew. Similarly, when a woman makes the same sexual statement with her body, while previously having taken a pill that makes her body reject the gift of life her husband has given her, the body is saying one thing and doing another.

    These problems are not necessarily insurmountable, especially since Protestants have the grace of baptism, matrimony and Sacred Scripture to strengthen them. But they are problems, and more and more study is being done on the harms of contraception that just bears out more clearly what the Catholic Church has been saying all along: Don’t mess with God’s design for sex.

    Additionally, you note that the author you linked to sees NFP as just as much of a novelty in the Church as artificial contraception. This statement is common to many opponents of NFP including many very conservative Catholics, but I think it misses a bit of historical perspective, largely because it’s quiet, behind the scenes historical perspective.

    NFP is as old as ovulation. Before the advent of widespread artificial contraception, women knew how their bodies worked. They were in tune with their fertility and women passed this knowledge down over generations. So the knowledge of how to postpone pregnancy by the natural means of following the signs of ovulation and abstaining when appropriate was common, natural and unworthy of comment from the Church because it wasn’t a problem.

    But when contraception became common cultural currency and even most Christians ceased to care about it, much of that knowledge was lost in western culture. Mothers didn’t teach their daughters how to know their bodies because pills and condoms could take care of that problem for them. Heck, millions of women don’t even have cycles to keep track of most of the time thanks to the pill.

    So NFP is a novelty in the conversation of the modern Church because in the ancient Church those conversations happened within the family, behind closed doors, where perhaps they belong. The fact that we have to have NFP classes in public is a sign of our culture’s sexual illiteracy.

  44. Bryan,

    I think Ryan was exactly correct in reading Perry’s intention. His argument was being used as an undercutting defeater, not a rebutting defeater. Perry wasn’t arguing a positive case for the permissibility of contraception (which would, granted, require answering your point as well) but was just undercutting the positive case for the impermissibility of contraception.

    You wrote:

    “If I am not misunderstanding your claim, then your position would seem to require that only for cannibals (such as this guy [warning, disturbing]) who eat living humans would it be wrong to induce vomiting after eating so that one can eat again. So long as one wasn’t eating actual living humans, inducing vomiting so that one could eat more would not be a disordered act. But if you acknowledge that even when not eating living human beings, inducing vomiting so that one can eat more is a disordered act, then why can’t onanism or contracepted sex be a disordered act, regardless of the ontology of semen?”

    The argument wouldn’t imply that it is only wrong to induce constant vomitting for a cannibal because it is wrong to eat and then vomit a live human. The argument implies that absent murder, there must be some other sense in which vomitting is disordered.

    You wrote:

    “In addition, if you think the Church’s position on contracepted sex presupposes that the semen contains actual human beings, then why do you think masturbation, homosexual sex, and bestiality are wrong? Surely not divine voluntarism, right? So if you agree that these acts are intrinsically disordered, then I don’t see why you think that contracepted sex can’t likewise be an intrinsically disordered act, but necessarily presupposes that semen contains actual human beings.”

    Saying that masturbation, homosex, and bestiality are wrong due to intrinsic dysteleology does not by itself imply that contracepted sex is wrong due to intrinsic dysteleology. Your point does show that if Perry were making a positive argument for the permissibility of contraception based on the assumption that murder is the only condition for an act to be impermissible, then he would be wrong. But that’s not the case.

    So why think that contraception in the absence of abortificants is in fact dysteleological, not just that it is (epistemically) possible that contraception is dysteleological?

  45. Also, can you give some citations in support of your statement that “the early Church Fathers also believed that ensoulment takes place in the womb, and in that case, semen would at most contain potential human beings”?

  46. Here’s a good question that someone sent in:

    What if a woman is infertile, as in, she’s had a hysterectomy or something—would that mean that the rules no longer apply? To put it another way, would what Onan did have been wrong in the context of a marriage in which the wife could not conceive? In other words, if there weren’t a threefold result from the sexual act since procreation is not possible, would it still matter whether the seed is properly planted?

    If a couple knows that one or both of them are infertile, they may licitly marry, and licitly engage in the sexual act. (But if they know in advance that one of them is impotent, such that the sexual act cannot occur, this is an impediment to a valid marriage.) In the case where one or both of them are known to be infertile, onanism is still wrong. Just as onanism is wrong during a woman’s infertile period, so it is wrong if the woman is known to be chronically infertile. And onanism is wrong if the husband is chronically infertile. Why? Because what makes onanism wrong is not the condition of the reproductive organs, but the attempt by man to thwart the procreative aspect of the sexual act, even if that procreative potential is known to be humanly impossible in some respect. So even if the reproductive organs are such that coitus can take place, but conception is humanly impossible, (Abraham and Sarah come to mind), the human attempt to further sterilize (or ensure sterilization of) the reproductive act is still immoral. One reason why this is true is because human procreation is synergistic, not monergistic. We cannot ‘play God’ and assume that because from our point of view the sexual act will not result in conception, therefore we can further thwart the sexual act. In other words, masturbation does not become morally permissible if a man discovers he is infertile. Same with homosexual acts or bestiality. The sexual act (man with woman) is intrinsically procreative in nature (even when unsuccessful in fulfilling the reproductive function), and therefore intentionally thwarting that procreative potentiality is intrinsically contrary to the nature of the act, even when the reproductive act would not have resulted in conception. Blocking the procreative potential of the sexual act does not become morally acceptable when the procreative potential of the act is, in another respect limited or nil, because the procreative potential of the sexual act isn’t reducible to the state of the reproductive organs per se, but is inherent in the very nature of the act itself, because divine cooperation is bound up with the procreative aspect of the sexual act. The sexual act remains ordered to the procreative function, no matter what the conditions of the reproductive organs, and therefore further thwarting that procreative function in the sexual act is contrary to the order of the act.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  47. Bryan,

    I just sent Matt an email about this, but it looks like you’ve answered my question. I am wondering about a wife who is already pregnant (you can’t be much more open to life than that); What if she wants to be sexually intimate with her husband, but can’t have sexual intercourse due to complications with the pregnancy. Do the same rules apply? I am guessing they do. It seems to me that the best thing for the marriage would be the freedom to do other stuff rather than a complete cessation of sexual activity for six month. However, I am not my own authority and will submit to the wisdom of the Church. In my sin, however, I wish the teaching was different.

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  48. In my sin, however, I wish the teaching was different.

    I echo this sentiment and appreciate the honesty displayed in it. I’m sure others are thinking this, so I’ll just come out and say that the Catholic teaching on these matters seems so different from the way it deals with other subjects. When it comes, for example, to creation and the positive enjoyment of God’s common blessings, the Catholic church seems to almost corner the market on joyfulness, freedom, and cheer. But on the issue of sexual intimacy in marriage, Rome’s position just seems incredibly strict and joyless, as if all the fun is taken out of marital intimacy.

    And what strikes me as even more eyebrow-raising is the fact that so many actually join the Catholic church specifically because of its teaching on these issues. Don’t get me wrong, I admire the hardline and consistent stance down through the centuries, but crikey, talk about depressing.

  49. Dear Jason,

    Thanks for the good, open input. Let me interact with this:

    When it comes, for example, to creation and the positive enjoyment of God’s common blessings, the Catholic church seems to almost corner the market on joyfulness, freedom, and cheer. But on the issue of sexual intimacy in marriage, Rome’s position just seems incredibly strict and joyless, as if all the fun is taken out of marital intimacy.

    My perspective as a married Catholic man is that the Church’s Theology of the Body, including its teachings on sexual intimacy in marriage, is full of joyfulness, freedom, and cheer. As our very first article noted (Andrew Preslar, Remember the Sabbath, Feb. 2009), life follows a temporal pattern given by our Creator. There are times of joy and times of sorrow. There are seasons for feasting and seasons for fasting. Living the Theology of the Body gives us joy in proper measure. We have honeymoons and longings, and we get to reflect regularly on how important our marriage and our spouse are. There is a special joy in realizing that we do not have spouses for personal gratification. We can find a special joy in sex like a hungry man can take special pleasure in a hot meal. We also get to develop personal discipline to avoid sin during the times of trial. Trial may come when a spouse is ill, or disabled, or deployed with the military (ahem), or what have you.

    By analogy — a very Catholic analogy, since you stated that these teachings seem inconsistent with Catholic joyfulness in other areas — consider the single man who abandons his worldly career pursuits to follow a calling to the priesthood or the impoverished monastic life. I imagine, and I understand the ideal to be, that he finds his greatest freedom in abandoning his own ambitions in order to be submitted wholly to the will of God. I think in the same way a non-contracepting married couple (of any faith) finds their greatest sexual freedom in abandoning their own ambitions to the good of the other, or the good of the union. True abandonment can take time, and the feelings and frustrations while on the way don’t seem like joy or freedom. They seem horrible. But they are not the goal, just struggles along the way.

    Last, remember that God did not give primative man the ability to have sexual relations without its natural procreative consequences. So if the Catholic teaching is strict or joyless, then at least for them, God is strict and joyless too.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  50. Jeremy,

    We are all called to the virtue of chastity, which is the virtue by which our sexual appetite is rightly ordered, with respect to reason and God’s law, according to our vocation in life. Sometimes in marriage there are times of abstinence by mutual agreement. Other times, there are times of abstinence by medical or psychological necessity. In some cases this requirement is temporary, and in others it is permanent. If a spouse is unable to participate in the sexual act, then the couple has to find other ways to give to each other, without the misuse of the sexual organs, which are ordered to the sexual act. The sexual organs are not ordered to carry out their sexual function apart from the sexual act. (This is the general error in masturbation, homosexual acts, and bestiality, though these also err in additional ways.) This is why the sexual use of the sexual organs outside the sexual act is disordered. But love and affection can be expressed without the sexual act. The couple can read books to each other, enjoy movies together, make meals together, hold each other quietly, etc. Love is fundamentally about giving, and one form of giving is sacrificing for the sake of the other. Periodic continence is an excellent practice to develop the virtue of chastity, by the discipline of the sexual appetite.

    “This is especially clear in the practice of periodic continence. Self-discipline of this kind is a shining witness to the chastity of husband and wife and, far from being a hindrance to their love of one another, transforms it by giving it a more truly human character. …. It fosters in husband and wife thoughtfulness and loving consideration for one another. It helps them to repel inordinate self-love, which is the opposite of charity. It arouses in them a consciousness of their responsibilities.” (Humanae Vitae, 21)

    It is worth meditating on the statement that inordinate self-love is the opposite of charity. The sexual appetite, being the largest of our sensual appetites, tempts us to inordinate self-love, by the reduction of the other person to a means to our own sexual self-gratification. Disciplining the sexual appetite by periodic continence develops self-mastery, which allows one to truly give in the sexual act, rather than gratify one’s lust. The exercise of self-mastery through the virtue of chastity brings a far greater joy than does the wanton pursuit of sexual pleasure, because only for those with chastity can the sexual act truly be an act of love. A good book on this subject is Love and Responsibility, by Karol Wojtyla (i.e. Pope John Paul II).

    The Church’s “rules” regarding sex are not rules to lessen our happiness, but to increase it. That’s quite difficult for many people to understand. That’s because such persons do not understand either the relation of the rules to sexual virtue, or the relationship between virtue and happiness. Sin always detracts from our true happiness. That’s why it is never the best thing for the marriage for either spouse to sin sexually. Sexual sin always harms not only the persons committing the sin, but the relationship between them as well. Chastity is not only a necessary condition for true sexual fulfillment, but also for a healthy and satisfying marriage. If we wish to grow in sanctity, we must grow in chastity. Each spouse must seek to avoid being a stumbling block to the other, and to encourage the other toward chastity. True moral freedom is not merely doing whatever one wants, but doing what is truly good, because it is good. A person who lives in this way is doing what he most deeply desires, not what is harming himself and those he loves. And when trials and losses and sufferings come into our lives, and we need to make sacrifices, we should respond by offering these to the Lord, in love.

    The contrast between chastity and lust is portrayed quite well, in the wedding scene at the very end of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, as Jane and Elizabeth are being married in the church, and Lydia is shown with Wickham in their apartment:

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  51. Perry (re#18),

    It is probably a matter of my denseness or lack of understanding or knowledge, but I’m not sure that I understand what you mean in your response. Are you referring to the Church Fathers as the “place” to which the Orthodox go to determine the Orthodoxy of Leo’s Tome? Which Church Fathers? How does one decide that particular question?

    For example, many Eastern Orthodox have serious qualms with St. Augustine’s “Western theological categories.” The Catholic Church esteems St. Augustine’s general thinking highly, while admitting that, at points, it has deficiencies, as does the theological thinking of any sinful person. The Church also reveres the thinking of the “Eastern Fathers” as well (though there is much room for us to grow here, I know). Where, exactly, *does* the Eastern Orthodox Christian go, to find the authoritative EO teaching on artificial contraception? How does he/she make the *determination* of where to find that authoritative teaching?

    From what I have read, even serious, devout (*not* heterodox, as in heterodox “Catholic” theologians) Orthodox theologians currently disagree about where Eastern Orthodoxy truly stands on artificial contraception. Again, I mention this *not*– I repeat, *not*– to cause further disunity and dissension between Orthodox and Catholic believers. I am also not interested in scoring apologetical points. I am interested in unity– unity in truth and love.

  52. JJS (re#48),

    I want to respond to your thoughts here, hopefully in a way that will be sympathetic and helpful:

    When it comes, for example, to creation and the positive enjoyment of God’s common blessings, the Catholic church seems to almost corner the market on joyfulness, freedom, and cheer. But on the issue of sexual intimacy in marriage, Rome’s position just seems incredibly strict and joyless, as if all the fun is taken out of marital intimacy.

    Brother, I know what you mean– or at least, I think that I know, because I have felt very similarly at points in the past. What I try to keep in my mind, when I think about the Church’s teaching in this area, is that it is actually protecting the integrity of human sexuality, *as God has designed it*, not as we might wish to *use* it.

    I’m going to be quite frank here– not unduly explicit but frank. As an orthodox Catholic English professor memorably said to me and other class members, several years ago at college, in the middle of a class on the novels of the Catholic novelist, Walker Percy– “Sperm is *not* just ‘stuff.'”

    What the professor meant is this– sperm is not something that is rightly “spilled” outside of a right, proper, *God-designed* physical context. That God-designed physical context is simply *not* a matter of what brings us the most physical pleasure at a given time. God designed sperm to go somewhere quite specific– and when we are okay with it going somewhere else, simply because that will bring us physical pleasure, and even emotional pleasure, at a certain time, we are going outside of God’s physical design and context for marital intimacy/sexuality.

    To paraphrase Father James Schall, the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception is very much pro-Eros. It is not *pro-Hedonism*, but is it pro-Eros. Any other stance artificial contraception changes and weakens the *God-designed integrity* of the marital act of intercourse, and thus, is actually anti-Eros.

    Now, will everyone please pray for me to be able, financially, logistically, and otherwise, to find a serious Catholic woman to court and hopefully marry, so that I can practice what I preach within marriage? I’m 37 and single here! :-) (His will be done, not mine.)

  53. JJS and all,

    Sorry for the typos (again)– this is what I get for typing serious comments requiring much thought in the wee hours of the morning…

  54. Hey Bryan,

    Thanks for the insight. Deep down I know the teaching of the Church is right and good. However, it is a major adjustment. I am in a guys group where we keep each other accoutable for sexual purity. The group is all Protestants except for me and one other Catholic Convert. When we talk about this they speak of their wives as being their “partner in purity” by being willing to meet all their sexual desires in whatever way they want them met. In fact, I think many evangelical women believe it is their job to keep their husband from temptation by doing whatever the man imagines would be fun and exciting. In fact, I went to an RUF Conference once where John Stone preached on sex, dating, and marriage. He basically taught this view and he mentioned nothing of even the possibility of misusing the sexual organs. Obviously I believe in the authority of the Church in this and all areas, but I had not realized how radical the contrast in sexual ethics is between the Catholic Church and what my friends call “reformed orthodoxy”.

    In some ways I think temporary chastity is harder for married men than for priests since we are living with the woman we are constantly attracted to sexually and in every other way. However, I think we can look to our Priests as examples of chaste living. We can follow their lead in self control and self denial.

    Very helpful – your video said it well. Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  55. Perry:

    I posted several examples of fathers arguing against contraception in the exact way that we do. If you can provide an example of a father arguing based on wasted seed being murder (and that on that basis alone it is wrong) then that would be a good starting point. Otherwise, you’re just table pounding and I’m not interested.

  56. I’m part of a message board that has as one of its primary objectives helping couples who use NFP. While most of the members are women, we do have a couple of men who post regularly. And we also have instructors from a variety of methods of NFP (such as a couple of different symptothermal methods, Billings, and Creighton) and women who use the much newer Marquette Model (which utilizes a fertility monitor) and are available to answer questions. There’s also a good bit of theological discussion and other topics, of course.

    If someone is in need of support with NFP, it’s a good place to hang out. Here’s the link: Natural Family Planning Discussion Board. You’ll need to set up a free membership with Delphi to read or participate, but it’s worth it if you need some fellowship with other women & men “in the trenches,” so to speak.

  57. It does seem strange that Catholics would actually enjoy the restrictions on marital relations during fertile periods (in an attempt to postpone pregnancy, that is), but it may be worth mentioning the benefits of temporary abstinence. After all, couples who use NFP have a divorce rate in the single digits, so there must be something good going on. (For example, see http://www.physiciansforlife.org/content/view/193/36/ )

    The best comparison, I think, is to the observance of Lent. As a Reformed Christian, I had little appreciation of periods of sacrifice, and regarded that Catholic practice as silly and unenlightened. After converting to Catholicism, I observed my first Lent obediently, but not happily. I still didn’t see what the point of making oneself suffer really proved to God. However, I began to experience an incredible amount of spiritual energy and discipline that I had never had in my life before. While this isn’t the purpose of observing Lent, it was a great gift that I wish I had had long ago in my walk as a Christian.

    The practice of temporary abstinence is very similar. While it may seem cruel to put such strict limits on the sexual practices of married couples, the benefits to marriage are unmeasurable, and indescribable. They are benefits that can not be obtained by couples who contracept, or find alternative means of sexual gratification during periods of fertility.

    This may be a completely subjective argument against the use of contraception, but I can assure you that I have absolutely no longing for the former period of my marriage when I was “liberated” by birth control.

  58. Christopher Lake (reply #52),

    I just needed to ask regarding your comments on sperm. You aren’t forgetting about nocturnal emissions, are you? Or is it your contention that that is a “God designed” physical context for the seed to be spilled? It seems that, even with perfect chastity, it is biologically impossible to avoid spilling the seed outside of the marital act.

  59. TDC,

    St. Thomas Aquinas answers that question here.

  60. TDC,

    The occurrence of miscarriages does not justify procured abortions. The fact that sometimes children are born without arms does not justify amputating childrens’ arms. The fact that some people are killed by lightning does not justify murdering people by electrocution. The fact that people’s hearts sometimes stop beating, does not justify stopping people’s hearts. I could go on, but you get the idea. The fact of nocturnal emission does not justify masturbation or onanism, just as the fact of miscarriages does not justify procuring an abortion. We are not God. Just because God allows something to happen does not mean that it is morally permissible for us to cause such a thing to happen.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  61. Jessica,

    Though I am single, celibate, and never-married, I can intuit that your subjective (but still very good and valuable!!) argument is right, and that there would, indeed, be great benefits from NFP, on many different levels, in any potential future marriage in my life. The Church knows what she is doing, in terms of her teaching on artificial contraception. *Nothing*, therein, is arbitrary or meant to oppress, or otherwise harm, us. As you also rightly noted, the same is true with Church disciplines regarding Lent. Thank you for the helpful, insightful comment!

  62. JJS (#48):

    Don’t get me wrong, I admire the hardline and consistent stance down through the centuries, but crikey, talk about depressing.

    I can’t tell whether you’re offering that as an argument against the teaching or not. If I were you, I wouldn’t. E.g., the doctrine of the Fall and original sin are rather depressing, but I doubt it would occur to either of us to question them on that basis. The “Good News” is that of redemption from a calamitous situation we can’t escape by our own efforts. We wouldn’t want to reject such news on the ground that it presupposes something depressing.

    What really struck me about your remark, though, is your implicit acknowledgment that the Catholic Church has maintained essentially the same position on contraception for as far back as we have records. Now we both know that such was the position of all Christendom until well into the 20th century. So, if you’re going to go with the mainstream Protestant stance and treat contraception as morally acceptable (or even obligatory in certain instances), then what you’re saying, in effect, is that doctrinal development can legitimately entail jettisoning a very important moral doctrine that had been held and taught by ecclesial consensus for almost 2,000 years. This is the sort of thing that the doctrine of sola scriptura licenses. And that’s one reason I’ve never found Protestantism, of whatever variety, intellectually credible.

    Best,
    Mike

  63. In #42 Matt says” Why is it different to abstain from sex during fertility than to use a condom? Because the one is doing something and the other is doing nothing.

    Matt,

    But in the cases above both ARE doing something. They are both trying to keep sperm and egg from uniting. The methodologies are different but the purpose is the same. The couples engaging in these respective practices could both be entirely open to God’s providence in having children, but at given stages of their marriage they are trying to limit the probability that they will have a child at that particular time.

    There have been a number of Protestant authors in recent years who have written against any sort of contraception. Perhaps you have heard of some of them – Charles Provan, Mary Pride are examples. They believe that no contraception is lawful, natural or artificial. I’m not trying to speak for or against their position, but only pointing out that there is a distinct difference between this position and that of both Protestants and Catholics who advocate any sort of planned avoidance of conception, be that natural or artificial. But I see no effective difference between two couples, both of whom are trying to avoid becoming pregnant at a given point in time based on the methodologies of keeping sperm and egg separate.

  64. Andrew, (re: #63)

    You wrote:

    But in the cases above both ARE doing something. They are both trying to keep sperm and egg from uniting.

    ‘Trying’ refers to the goal or end; “doing something” refers to the action. Your statement conflates the action done, with the goal or end for which the action is done. In comment #31 I wrote:

    Non-contracepted sexual intercourse during the infertile period shares the same secondary end as contracepted sex, i.e. avoiding pregnancy. It is not that shared [secondary] end but the difference in means that makes contracepted sex intrinsically disordered and the use of the infertile period not intrinsically disordered. The contracepting couple deliberately sterilize fertile intercourse; the couple practicing natural family planning does not do so. They deliberately abstain from fertile intercourse.

    So even though avoiding pregnancy is the same end or goal in the couple using contraception to sterilize the sexual act, and the couple abstaining from the sexual act during the infertile period, the two couples are not doing the same thing, because the contracepting couple is blocking the fertility of the sexual act, while the couple practicing natural family planning is abstaining from the sexual act. Abstaining from the sexual act, is not the same thing as engaging in the sexual act and blocking its fertility. So, the two couples are not doing the same thing. And the difference between what they are doing, is where the relevant moral difference is located. Abstaining from the sexual act is not intrinsically evil; but frustrating the sexual act is intrinsically evil.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  65. The most common criticism of the developed Catholic teaching on birth control is that there’s no morally significant difference between contraception and NFP. If the end is the same–i.e., to avoid conception–then it doesn’t matter whether one does something toward that end–i.e., contracepts–or refrains from doing something–i.e., avoids intercourse during the fertile period of the woman’s cycle. Or so the argument goes.

    What makes such a criticism plausible is the grain of truth in it. If a couple plans to remain childless, or avoids conception for insufficiently grave reasons, then they’re in the wrong regardless of which method of birth control they use. In other spheres of action, there are many examples of moral symmetry between commission and omission. E.g., whether I actively drown somebody or merely refuse to save them from drowning when I easily could, I have committed the sin of homicide. But there are also many cases of asymmetry between commission and omission. E.g., when a terminally ill patient refuses treatment whose costs and burdens, in her judgment, would clearly outweigh its potential benefit, that omission is by no means the same, morally speaking, as her taking a suicide pill would be. So, the question we need to consider in the case of birth control is what can make refraining from intercourse during fertile periods, which is omission, and contraception, which is commission, morally different from each other.

    What can make them different is this: in contraception, one is working against what God has designed by changing the nature of the act, whereas with NFP one is working with what God has designed by restricting the act to circumstances that would obtain naturally, aside from human action. For the reason I’ve already given, that doesn’t automatically make NFP right for any and every couple. But according to the developed teaching of the Church, the latter is not intrinsically evil: it can be right, given grave enough reasons. But contraception is intrinsically evil no matter how good the reasons for it.

    What I’ve called “the most common criticism” of the teaching fails to take due account of that distinction. The assumption is that if one’s ultimate intentions are good, then the sub-intention embodied by the means to the end either doesn’t matter or shares in the good of the end. But there is no general rule from which the claim that the end justifies the means would follow. In fact, Christian morality explicitly rejects the general proposition that the end always justifies the means. So the argument that there’s no morally significant difference between contraception and NFP, if it is to have any interest for Christians, must show either that any attempt to regulate birth at all is intrinsically evil, or that such an attempt, when licit, cannot be made illicit by altering the nature of the conjugal act.

    Some of the Fathers of the Church argued the former, as do some Catholic trads, as well as the representatives of the “Quiverfull” movement in Protestantism today. I don’t think they make their case well. There just are cases where the most responsible thing to do is space births or even try to avoid conception permanently, such as when pregnancy would pose a clear and present danger to the life of the mother. But it doesn’t follow that the means thereto are morally indifferent. When we actively alter human physiology to sever intercourse from procreation, what we get is lust–i.e., mutual objectification—rather than moral responsibility. That is not self-evident to a lot of people, but I think the effects of the so-called “sexual revolution” on our society makes it evident enough.

  66. Tim T. #52

    Just a side note, is there ANYTHING Aquinas does not talk about? The detail he seems to have thought about that topic amazed me. Good stuff.

  67. Since the NFP references are rife here, one more. My wife and I used NFP to identify her fertile period to conceive our youngest child. NFP does not necessarily mean abstention.

    Cordially,
    dt

  68. Bryan (re. #31),

    You wrote:

    It is not that shared [secondary] end but the difference in means that makes contracepted sex intrinsically disordered and the use of the infertile period not intrinsically disordered.

    I agree that the difference in means makes the two actions morally different. You said they shared the same “secondary” end. What would you say are the two actions’ primary ends?

    You wrote:

    The regulation of birth is an aspect of responsible fatherhood and motherhood, and is objectively morally acceptable when it is pursued by the spouses without external pressure….

    Could you elaborate on what you mean by “external pressure”?

  69. Tim and Bryan,

    Point taken. My comment wasn’t because I though nocturnal emissions proved that contraception was ok. I was pointing nocturnal emissions out because Christopher seemed to be emphasizing that semen was for a very specific God designed purpose; and that it was not designed to be spilled anywhere else.

    But, as you pointed out, Bryan, miscarriages do not ok abortion. I think this could lead to all sorts of questions about why God allows any of that (miscarriages, nocturnal emissions) at all to be part of nature, but that would probably take the thread off track.

    I hope you won’t think me jumping around, but may I suggest what I think is possibly the greater underlying difficulty for others (at least for myself) with the Catholic position? It seems that, in Catholic theology, the procreative aspect is essential to sex. However, this will cause SOME (however few) couples to need to refrain from sex for long periods of time (and possibly all together for medical reasons). For us moderns, regular sex is an essential part of a healthy marriage. In fact, for many, sex is more an essential part of marriage than the procreative aspect is essential for sex.

    So when the two collide, like in Jeremy Tate’s example in comment 47, and the Catholics say that they should remain abstinent rather than have a certain kind of sexual relationship (that doesn’t fit Catholic teaching), it strikes me as imbalanced and a bit legalistic.

    And I hope this isn’t too far off topic, but this seems to be my problem with other parts of Catholic ethics, like the fact that Catholics cannot “adopt” frozen embryos, thus saving them, because the medical process involved would be considered mortal sin (injecting the embryo into an adoptive mother), or the often taught idea that one should not lie, even if it is to save people from the Nazis. On these last two points, I may be wrong about them being Catholic teaching, but that’s how I understand it.

    It seems to come to down to the idea that you can never do wrong so that good may come about. It seems to be too committed to the letter of the law rather than the spirit.

  70. i just realized that, rather than using the lying example in my last comment, I should have used the much more pertinent example: the Catholic teaching that we should not use condoms to reduce sexually transmitted diseases in 3rd world countries. Once again, the idea that we can not do wrong so that good may come about.

  71. Michael,
    Thanks for addressing the fact that NFP works with God’s design, and not against it. My sister-in-law once suggested to me that the Church was opposed to birth control because it was a new invention. We didn’t have Advil a hundred years ago, but you’d still take that for a headache, right? Now, we have safe forms of contraception, so why not use those to fix our ailments? The arguments has obvious flaws of course. First, the Church has never been anti-medication. Second, fertility is not a sickness. It is part of God’s design for us as male and female, and while medication or barriers may block, suppress, or abort the natural process, NFP is an understanding of the natural process.

    The Catholic Church, while it allows the use of NFP, does teach that a couple should have “grave” reasons for postponing a pregnancy. The Church does not define “grave” but instead leaves it to each couple to determine whether or not their reasons for delaying pregnancy are serious or not. While it may be possible to use NFP selfishly (like a contraceptive) it’s extremely difficult to do. As has already been noted, restricting relations been husband and wife is tough. So consider, a couple that uses NFP has to face this time of abstinence every month, forcing them to examine on a monthly basis (if not more often) whether or not their reasons for abstinence are serious or not.

    If you need evidence, just do a google search of the various NFP teaching organizations. You will see married couples with well beyond the cultural quota of 2.5 children. And this is not because NFP doesn’t work–it does–but couples who understand God’s design for husband and wife do not feel burdened by a child over a trivial reasons.

    Jessica

  72. What I’ve called “the most common criticism” of the teaching fails to take due account of that distinction. The assumption is that if one’s ultimate intentions are good, then the sub-intention embodied by the means to the end either doesn’t matter or shares in the good of the end. But there is no general rule from which the claim that the end justifies the means would follow.

    Mike (and Bryan) – It’s not that our assumption is that the ultimate intentions are good. We are not making that judgment at this point in the discussion. What we asking about the situation where the intentions of the practitioner of NFP and that of an artificial (but non-abortifacient) methods are identical. Bryan is focusing on the individual sexual act above, but we are asking about the practice of family planning over a period of months and years and asking why it is that when the intentions are identical that it matters whether the methodologies for planning do or do not involve a man made device.

    In Human Vitae we are told that the meaning and purpose of of the divine gift of the sexual act must not be violated. This is a principle that I hope conservative Catholics and Protestants would wholeheartedly agree with. And I would also agree with your statement, contra some Protestants that I referenced and some Catholics you referenced, that there is a proper place for family planning. But what we do not see is that the principle noted above is necessarily violated when the methodology involved with this planning uses a man made device. So take two cases where the beliefs concerning sexuality and procreation are identical, and the intentions are identical, and the results are identical, but only the methodology of arriving at these identical results is different. Why in one case are we dealing with moral evil while is the other case we are not (other than that fact that in one case the precepts of Roman Catholic theology have be transgressed)?

  73. Ryan, (re: #68)

    You said they shared the same “secondary” end. What would you say are the two actions’ primary ends?

    I used ‘secondary’ (in brackets) only to distinguish the end from the object, for those who aren’t familiar with the philosophical aspects of a human act. All I mean is that at a higher teleological level, both the contracepting couple and the couple abstaining from the sexual act during the fertile period have a shared goal, i.e. avoiding pregnancy.

    Could you elaborate on what you mean by “external pressure”?

    Coercion by others, such as parents, neighbors, friends or the state.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  74. TDC (re: #69)

    You wrote:

    For us moderns, regular sex is an essential part of a healthy marriage.

    We might wonder how elderly couples ever stayed together before the invention of Viagra. The term ‘essential’ is a very strong term. If ‘regular sex’ were truly an essential part of a healthy marriage, couples who become unable to engage in the sexual act could no longer have a “healthy marriage.” But we have to distinguish between what is an ordinary feature of a good spousal relationship during that season of a couple’s life, and what is essential to the marital relationship as such. Marriage is fundamentally about self-sacrificial love for a person of the opposite sex (with the intention of procreating and forming a family), a love so strong that one is willing to vow exclusive fidelity to that person for the rest of his or her life, “for rich or for poor, in sickness and in health,” including any sickness or injury that renders the person incapable of engaging in the sexual act. The inability of a spouse to perform any function, including the sexual act, does not nullify the marriage; it calls on the other spouse to fulfill his or her vow, out of that same self-sacrificial love by which he or she agreed to marry the other spouse. So long as the couple can still exercise charity, affection, faithfulness and tenderness toward each other, they may still develop and deepen a healthy marriage, even if one or both of them is unable to engage in the sexual act.

    So when the two collide, like in Jeremy Tate’s example in comment 47, and the Catholics say that they should remain abstinent rather than have a certain kind of sexual relationship (that doesn’t fit Catholic teaching), it strikes me as imbalanced and a bit legalistic.

    In order to evaluate whether a teaching is “imbalanced or “legalistic” we need to know the standard for what counts as “balanced” and non-legalistic.” Otherwise, these are words without any objective standard. You can’t preserve a “healthy marriage” by engaging in sinful actions. Couples who set aside the procreative aspect of sex, and use their sexual organs as toys for pleasure, are violating God’s created order, and harming their marriage, because they are objectifying each other as instruments for their own self-gratification. True self-giving in the sexual act is present only when a mutual openness to procreation is present, because only then is the couple giving to each other according to the meaning of the sexual act. Whenever the couple denies such openness, and still engages in the sexual act, the act reduces to mutual use, which is contrary to love itself, in which persons are never to be treated as objects. The couple who remain open to procreation are, in the sexual act, engaging in a cooperative act larger than themselves, one in which they both know they are participating. They are participating in an act through which a child, who will live forever, may come into the world. This completely changes the dynamic of the act, because it takes on an eternal dimension, one oriented to something beyond themselves, not merely to mutual pleasuring.

    And I hope this isn’t too far off topic, but this seems to be my problem with other parts of Catholic ethics, like the fact that Catholics cannot “adopt” frozen embryos, thus saving them, because the medical process involved would be considered mortal sin (injecting the embryo into an adoptive mother), or the often taught idea that one should not lie, even if it is to save people from the Nazis. On these last two points, I may be wrong about them being Catholic teaching, but that’s how I understand it.

    One of the great errors of our time is the notion that we may do evil in order to bring about good. This utilitarian idea is that the end always justifies the means. And that’s because this position fails to see that some actions are intrinsically evil, and therefore can never be justified, no matter what the circumstances. If someone placed a baby in front of me, and said, “Kill this baby or I’ll kill a hundred people” I still must not kill the baby. If I were to kill the baby, then I would be guilty of murder, even if it would ‘save’ the lives of those one hundred persons. Some things are worth dying for. Better to preserve one’s integrity before God and lose one’s physical life, than to save one’s life and sin against God. Better by an order of an infinite magnitude.

    As St. Paul says, “And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), ” Let us do evil that good may come”? Their condemnation is just.” (Rom 3:8) And as the Catechism adds:

    There are concrete acts that it is always wrong to choose, because their choice entails a disorder of the will, i.e., a moral evil. One may not do evil so that good may result from it. (CCC 1761)

    You wrote:

    It seems to be too committed to the letter of the law rather than the spirit.

    The spirit of the law is agape (i.e. love for God above all else, and love of neighbor for God’s sake). Agape does not do evil that good may come about. Agape is what moves people to be willing to die rather than do what is evil.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  75. TDC,

    Just to make sure that you know, I haven’t been ignoring your question to me (#58). Other people stepped up to address it before I had a chance (which I don’t mind at all; I’m thankful that there are many people with good answers here!).

    While God designed sperm for a specific purpose and location, we are obviously not in the same kind/degree of control of what happens when we sleep, as we are in very obvious control of what we *willfully choose* to do while awake.

    Thus, unless perhaps we have been willfully filling our minds with impure sexual thoughts during the day, and thus, possibly, adversely affecting our sleep at night, a nocturnal emission cannot be considered a willful violation of God’s design for male sexuality, as related to female sexuality.

    By contrast, as already mentioned, the “spilling” of sperm, willfully, outside of God’s physical design for male/female sexuality, during marital intimacy, does violate this design. Therefore, it is a sin, a willful perversion of that design.

  76. Andrew (#72):

    But what we do not see is that the principle noted above is necessarily violated when the methodology involved with this planning uses a man made device. So take two cases where the beliefs concerning sexuality and procreation are identical, and the intentions are identical, and the results are identical, but only the methodology of arriving at these identical results is different. Why in one case are we dealing with moral evil while is the other case we are not (other than that fact that in one case the precepts of Roman Catholic theology have be transgressed)?

    That way of framing the issue makes two assumptions that are false. The first is that the problem with contraception, according to Catholic teaching, is that it involves use of a “man-made device.” That is not the problem. NFP involves use of man-made devices too: depending on the method, it could be litmus paper, thermometers, or other, more recently invented devices. The problem is that contraception, unlike NFP, embodies the intent to physically block the generative process if and when it would otherwise occur. But that’s also the problem with coitus interruptus, douching, anal intercourse, and no doubt other methods whose ingenuity escapes me at the moment. Those methods do not involve a “man-made device.” But it’s the contraceptive intention, regardless of which method embodies it, that the Catholic Church has condemned for as far back as we have records. Until Lambeth 1930, mainline Protestantism condemned it too.

    The second assumption in the way you frame the issue is that the “intentions” of a contraceptor and the intentions of an NFPer are the same, the only difference being that the former uses a man-made device. That too is false. We’ve already explained above how a couple that is physically blocking the generative process is doing something different from the couple that is merely avoiding intercourse during the fertile period. And the difference obtains whether or not the contraceptor is using a man-made device. Of course the ultimate intention is the same: to avoid conception; but the proximate intention embodied by the chosen means is different, because the contracepting couple is doing something different than the NFP-ing couple, precisely as a means to the end.

    Before you question the Catholic teaching again, please make sure you understand it.

  77. I thought I would share my favorite analogy here:

    Suppose you want to visit a friend but for some reason you don’t want to interact with his wife. You could solve this problem a few ways.

    1. You could lock his wife in a closet while you visit your friend. This would be called the barrier method.

    2. You could slip his wife some drugs and visit your friend while she is unconscious. This would be the chemical method.

    3. You could just kill his wife. This would be the sterilization method.

    4. You could visit your friend while his wife is not home. This would be the NFP method.

    The goal is the same. But there is a moral difference in the method. Now one might ask why don’t you want to interact with your friend’s wife. Are your reasons really Christian? Should you not just work out your problems with her? But if you have serious reasons that are not based on a lack of charity towards her then option 4 would be moral.

  78. TDC #69

    ” I think this could lead to all sorts of questions about why God allows any of that (miscarriages, nocturnal emissions) at all to be part of nature”

    The answer about nocturnal emissions is straightforward: the prostate keeps working and its produced fluid cannot be accumulated indefinitely. It may also be beneficial for reproductive purposes to have “fresh” sperm cells available and not some who have spent a long time waiting.

  79. By ending Bryan’s response #64 with Matt’s final paragraph in #42:

    “You can get $1,500 dollars by working hard or you can get $1,500 dollars by robbing a liquor store at gunpoint. Just because you end up with the same result doesn’t mean the action you took to get it is morally equivalent.”

    I don’t think the issue can become any more clear than that.

  80. 2 comments, 2 mistakes.

    #78: sperm cells are “which”, not “who”. (They are not little people ;-)

    #79: “clearer”, not “more clear”.

  81. ….it involves use of a “man-made device.” That is not the problem. NFP involves use of man-made devices too: depending on the method, it could be litmus paper…

    Well yes, obviously we all use devices and technologies in our lives all the time, but this hardly gets to my point. I’m not suggesting that solely because it utilizes a device somewhere in the process that that the RCC has a problem with a given mode of family planning. That would obviously be impossible in our modern society right from turning off the lights to go to bed! I’m just using “man-made device” as a designator and then trying to get you to explain what it is about the particular methodology that makes it inherently sinful given the facts in the two cases I enunciated above and the principle I referred to from Human Vitae

    We’ve already explained above how a couple that is physically blocking the generative process is doing something different from the couple that is merely avoiding intercourse during the fertile period.

    Firstly, I’m trying to expand the conversation to not just one sexual act but the whole process of family planning. NFP and other family planning methods focus on actions and planning that occur over a period of months, not just one event. So, the couple that utilizes NFP over a period of time is trying to lessen the probability of the generative process occurring, just as the couple who utilizes a simple blocking method. In a website advocating NFP I was told that the efficacy for one type of NFP was > 98%. This as I’m sure you know is more effective than any barrier method. The couple using this type of NFP can be assured that statistically there is >98% chance that egg and sperm will not unite and thus that the generative process will not occur over the given period of months that they use NFP.

    I pointed you back to Human Vitae and noted the general purpose stated therein of not denying the God given nature and purpose of the sexual act. I would certainly agree that the couple described above practicing NFP over a period of months is not necessarily in violation of this principle, despite the fact that their intention and plan over a period of months is to lower the possibility of the generative act from occurring to a very low statistical probability. I would then extend that same reasoning to a couple that is using a (non-abortifacient) barrier method over a period of months. They are not necessarily in violation of that principle. Of course this second couple is in violation of teaching of the Catholic Church, so we are interested in whether there is any demonstratable connection between the aforementioned principles and the specific approbation of artificial (but of course non-abortifacient) birth control measures.

    If you must focus on just one sexual act, then my observation is that the couple using NFP is only allowing for sperm to be released when there is very little chance of the sperm uniting with the egg. They utilize NFP because they hope that sperm and egg will not unite after sex. The same can be said of the couple using the blocking method. The purpose is the same but the methodology is different. But I think the matter becomes clearer when we look at the whole planning process of the respective couples over a period of months and years rather than just one sexual act.

    Note that I am not saying that the methodology is indifferent if the intention, purpose, and result are the same. Abortifacient methods are always wrong for example. I’m just noting that you are comparing two methodologies of keeping sperm from egg, but you are not demonstrating that the one entailing the artificial device is necessarily wrong. And again, I’m using “artificial device” as a designator and not suggesting that the RCC has issues with methods of birth control just because there is an artificial device employed.

  82. “You can get $1,500 dollars by working hard or you can get $1,500 dollars by robbing a liquor store at gunpoint. Just because you end up with the same result doesn’t mean the action you took to get it is morally equivalent.”

    I don’t think the issue can become any more clear than that.

    You can control weight gain by sticking your finger down your throat and vomiting after you gorge, or you can diet.

    There are so many ways to illustrate the moral difference between action to prevent a result and inaction not to achieve it – come on, mate!

    jj

  83. Jeremy, (re: #54)

    The group is all Protestants except for me and one other Catholic Convert. When we talk about this they speak of their wives as being their “partner in purity” by being willing to meet all their sexual desires in whatever way they want them met. In fact, I think many evangelical women believe it is their job to keep their husband from temptation by doing whatever the man imagines would be fun and exciting.

    We live in the aftermath of the effects of nominalism, wherein the human capacity to recognize the natures of things was denied, and either divine voluntarism (e.g. right and wrong are based on arbitrary divine commands), or deontology/utlilitarianism (i.e. Kant / Mill) attempted to fill the resulting moral vacuum. So, among many Christians in the Protestant traditions, so long as it is consensual, and you can’t find a prohibition against it in Scripture, anything goes. For people who are not Christian, consensuality is the only criterion (apart from legality). The consensual criterion as a standalone criterion is Kantian. Of course a sexual act cannot be moral if it is not consensual. The problem is not the consensual citerion per se; the problem is that the consensual criterion by itself entirely abstracts away our biological nature, as though there is no teleology in our bodies and organs, and as if all this embodied teleology is irrelevant to the rightness or wrongness of our embodied actions. Treating consensuality as the sufficient moral criterion treats us like disembodied beings, who then get to do whatever we want with these bodies we happen to be possessing. This philosophical backdrop is why Christianity in the US cannot find its moral ground regarding issues related to sexual morality, i.e. marriage, homosexual acts, abortion, and embryonic stem cell research. Either we appeal to the Bible (in which case we lose traction with all those who don’t believe the Bible and don’t think the Bible has a place in the public square), or we’re at a loss for words, and the young people start seeing that we have no principled reason to oppose things like homosexual acts or homosexual ‘marriage.’ I don’t wish to be crude, but the world sees the hypocrisy. If husbands and wives can rightly engage and anal and oral sex, then so can same-sex partners. There is no principled reason why anal or oral sex would be morally acceptable between husband and wife but not between two persons of the same sex. The sex (i.e. male or female) of the participants is only accidental to the nature of those acts. So likewise is the presence of a marital vow, because such acts have no procreative aspect, and therefore don’t require a lifelong union in which to raise children. Thus, if husbands and wife can do this, then so can teens and unmarried couples. This is why the “whatever the man imagines is fun” criterion not only denies the created order established by God, but implicitly entails that we can do with our sexual organs whatever we want, so long as there is consensus among the participants. And that not only denies marriage, it also denies that we are not our own but belong to God our Creator.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  84. Andrew (#81):

    There are two confusions in your post. So let’s clear those away before moving on to the central point.

    First:

    If you must focus on just one sexual act, then my observation is that the couple using NFP is only allowing for sperm to be released when there is very little chance of the sperm uniting with the egg. They utilize NFP because they hope that sperm and egg will not unite after sex. The same can be said of the couple using the blocking method. The purpose is the same but the methodology is different. But I think the matter becomes clearer when we look at the whole planning process of the respective couples over a period of months and years rather than just one sexual act.

    The course of a couple’s family planning over a period of time is morally significant only with respect to the question whether their reasons for spacing or avoiding births over that time are grave enough to justify doing so. If the reasons are grave enough, then they are justified seeking to space or avoid births over that time, however long or short that may be. The ultimate intent is thus morally acceptable. Then we can ask whether whether the means they employ are themselves morally acceptable. But that question will apply to each and every act of conjugal intercourse, regardless of how many such acts are in question, and regardless of how effective the couple’s chosen means turns out to be. Hence the question about their proximate intent, the intent embodied by the means of birth control they use, remains the same whether we are looking at individual acts or the ensemble of such acts. That is why, in Humanae Vitae §3, Paul VI answered the following questions in the negative:

    … if one were to apply here the so called principle of totality, could it not be accepted that the intention to have a less prolific but more rationally planned family might transform an action which renders natural processes infertile into a licit and provident control of birth? Could it not be admitted, in other words, that procreative finality applies to the totality of married life rather than to each single act?

    An individual act that is intrinsically evil cannot be made otherwise by being a constitutive means within a larger, morally acceptable end involving a totality of acts and attitudes. The only pertinent question is whether an act whose procreative potential is deliberately blocked is intrinsically evil or not.

    Second:

    I’m just noting that you are comparing two methodologies of keeping sperm from egg, but you are not demonstrating that the one entailing the artificial device is necessarily wrong. Note that I am not saying that the methodology is indifferent if the intention, purpose, and result are the same. Abortifacient methods are always wrong for example. And again, I’m using “artificial device” as a designator and not suggesting that the RCC has issues with methods of birth control just because there is an artificial device employed.

    If you’re going to use ‘artificial device’ as a “designator,” but at the same time you’re “not suggesting the RCC has issues with methods of birth control just because there is an artificial device employed,” then the use of that designator simply confuses the issue. What’s morally unacceptable, according to Catholic doctrine, is not the mere employment of such a device, but the couple’s intent to block the generative process when it would otherwise occur–whether that intent is carried out with an “artificial device” or not.

    With those confusions out of the way, I note that you say you’re “trying” to get me “to explain what it is about the particular methodology that makes it inherently sinful given the facts in the two cases I enunciated above and the principle I referred to from Human[sic] Vitae.” Now one curious thing about that statement is that Humanae Vitae itself already provides some of that explanation, specifically in sections §7 through §17. Surely you have read that. If so, what’s your difficulty with it?

    Moreover, I myself adumbrated part of the explanation in my #65, where I stated:

    When we actively alter human physiology to sever intercourse from procreation, what we get is lust–i.e., mutual objectification—rather than moral responsibility. That is not self-evident to a lot of people, but I think the effects of the so-called “sexual revolution” on our society makes it evident enough.

    But you speak as though neither that statement nor the arguments of HV itself have been made. Now I could understand your noting such arguments and stating just what you think is unsound about them. But I do not understand your failure to acknowledge them at all. You proceed as though they’re irrelevant. They are quite relevant.

    Before we get into the nuts-and-bolts of those arguments, however, I have a question for you: What, for you, would count as a “demonstration” of the Catholic doctrine–the same doctrine that mainline Protestantism itself adhered to until Lambeth 1930? The question is important, for your answer will determine whether you’ve conceived the question correctly in the first place, which I’m not at all convinced of. In our older discussions of the development of Catholic doctrine quite generally, you seemed to want a kind of demonstration that struck me as inappropriate to the subject matter. I suspect the same problem here.

  85. Deep and wide.

  86. I hope I’m not irrelevantly butting in, but I just wanted to post my 2 cents.

    Andrew, I can see what you are trying to say. The ends are the same with both NFP and (non-abortifacient) contraception. It’s just, the “devices” used to reach the end are different. So why is one wrong and the other not, since they are both used for the same purpose and perhaps with the same attitude?

    That’s the whole question, obviously. What I can surmise of the Catholic position is that b/c the sexual act does, by God’s ordained design, necessarily include three main purposes, every time a sexual act takes place, none of the three can be thwarted. So, the three main purposes are 1)potential procreation, 2)intimate unity of the couple and 3)pleasure. If any one of these three are thwarted, the sexual act is wrong. So, for example, if the pleasure aspect is thwarted, it is wrong — rape – there is no pleasure in rape for the victim, thus the sexual act is thwarted. If the unity aspect is thwarted — adultery or sex outside of marriage – there is no true unity, thus the sexual act is thwarted.

    Now what of contraception? Procreation is obviously a very natural, intimate part of the sexual act. When a couple actively thwarts the procreative aspect of it — using contraception, then it is wrong. With NFP, you aren’t thwarting anything at all. Just like if your husband or wife did not want to have sex on a particular occasion it would be wrong to force them to b/c that then becomes a perversion of the sexual act. NFP is okay when contraception is not okay b/c it allows the sexual act to be complete, embracing all essential aspects of the sexual act. Contraception, on the other hand, only allows 2 and scoffs at the third and very important aspect of procreation.

    I don’t know if that’s a fair way of putting it…? I’m not even sure why I’m arguing for it; I’m Reformed Baptist and not really sure if I am convicted of this or not anyway.

  87. I didn’t clarify my point quite as well as I thought. So, here is an addition.

    Another reason NFP (may) be okay when contraception is not is b/c the actual chemical and bodily functions that are required for procreation are not thwarted, whereas with contraception, they most certainly are. After all, with NFP, the sperm still enters the woman’s body and the hormones are still released inside the woman – nothing has been thwarted. Now, whether there are enough hormones around for ovulation or whether the sperm does or does not find an egg to impregnate is another matter. The difference is, everything essential to the sexual act has taken place. With contraception, it has not. For example, with a barrier method, the sperm is stopped from entering the woman. And with a pill or hormone injection, the hormones are stopped from releasing and causing ovulation and the preparation of the womb.

    The difference kinda seems to be trivial – whether the sperm gets in or not or whether estrogen is released being the deciding factor for what it moral. I guess that’s why I’m still not sure.

  88. I love doug Wilson and want to theologically strangle him at the same time…im a tormented soul…haha ;)

  89. Mike said: An individual act that is intrinsically evil cannot be made otherwise by being a constitutive means within a larger, morally acceptable end involving a totality of acts and attitudes.

    Mike, I agree with this entirely. I even brought up the case of abortifacient contraception to demonstrate that the totality of the acts and process might be overall morally acceptable but an individual act immoral. Perhaps you did not catch that.

    The only pertinent question is whether an act whose procreative potential is deliberately blocked is intrinsically evil or not.

    No, it is also a pertinent and necessary question to ask about the larger moral goal of the process. The problem in these questions is often that the Catholic only focuses on the individual act but ignores the larger question about the planning process.

    If you’re going to use ‘artificial device’ as a “designator,” but at the same time you’re “not suggesting the RCC has issues with methods of birth control just because there is an artificial device employed,” then the use of that designator simply confuses the issue.

    If you are confused by the terminology or choice of terms I am happy to change the descriptors.

    What’s morally unacceptable, according to Catholic doctrine, is not the mere employment of such a device, but the couple’s intent to block the generative process when it would otherwise occur–whether that intent is carried out with an “artificial device” or not.

    But this is just what the couple using NFP is doing – they are circumventing the natural generative process. This is much easier to see when you look at the planning process over a given month or months. The only real difference, given the unreliability of many barrier methods, is that the practitioner of NFP circumvents the generative process much more effectively over any given month. There is some comfort taken by those utilizing NFP that they are not blocking the process with a given act of sex. But even here they are consciously choosing to have sex when they are virtually assured that they won’t conceive. And you want to say that this is NOT circumventing the natural procreative process? I would understand our ultra-conservative friends making this case, but not a user of NFP.

    When we actively alter human physiology to sever intercourse from procreation, what we get is lust–i.e., mutual objectification—rather than moral responsibility. That is not self-evident to a lot of people, but I think the effects of the so-called “sexual revolution” on our society makes it evident enough.

    So how about when the user of NFP severs intercourse from procreation by their choices?

    What is not self evident is the case that each and every sexual act must be connected potentially to procreation if we are to affirm the proper and necessary function of sex in general. Catholic teaching tries to move from the general principles of affirming the procreative function of sex to the particular application that each and every sexual act must actively reflect this principle. This is done with no warrant that I can see and is complicated even more by the fact the Catholics feel that they are keeping this principle in their sexual practices, but while virtually removing most any possibility of becoming pregnant through as assiduous use of NFP. At least statistically they are removing the possibility of conception with a greater degree of certainty than is the couple who is using a simple barrier method. Do you now see any inconsistency here?

    So what I’m trying to draw out of you is not a restatement of Catholic teaching on sexuality which you and others have done, but rather a moral principle that backs it up (which has been done) and a clear logical connection to the application you are making by use of the principle (which has not that I can see). And I’m not sure exactly what point you want to make about the sexual revolution.

    The Humanae Vitae paragraphs you reference don’t make the case either. They do make the case for Christian principles of marriage, sexuality, etc that we agree on and they then state the RCC position on contraception. But there is no necessitating logical connection between the two (I did not actually expect this encyclical to attempt this). It is this lack of application of the principle to the practice of NFP that we do not see. My theory is that we don’t see it because there is nothing to see.

    What, for you, would count as a “demonstration” of the Catholic doctrine….

    First you have to define a clear moral principle and second you must establish clearly and logically how the principle is affirmed by the Catholic practice while violated otherwise. With this issue we must look both at the larger process of family planning as well as the individual act of sex.

  90. I’m not a huge fan of being told what to do in general, and I wonder why the Catholic Church doesn’t tell old people not to have sex for consistency’s sake. But I don’t see how people actualize “children are a blessing from the Lord” while using contraception. (And I’m Reformed, I guess.)

  91. well old people who have sex and dont use a contraceptive arent doing anything to prevent a child from being concieved. thats the sin is it not? an active willful intention to have the physical pleasures of the sexual union while intentionally doing something in your power to take the life-giving power out of the act? So the church is consistent in her teaching, its just often a misundersood one. And old barren people can still have children for special reasons, its in scripture.

  92. And don’t forget about Abraham and Sarah…. :-) Ya just NEVER know…..

  93. Andrew,

    You say that

    There is some comfort taken by those utilizing NFP that they are not blocking the process with a given act of sex. But even here they are consciously choosing to have sex when they are virtually assured that they won’t conceive…

    so they are thus circumventing the natural generative process after all.

    First, any such virtual assurance is bound to encounter the real world, and I suspect a large majority of people practicing NFP are smart enough to have figured that out before choosing NFP. You seem to be describing NFP as a means of mastering the reproductive machine to obtain zero birth, but in that case you’ve removed the Catholic faith from the thing you’re trying to critique. I am among those those of whom you speak, for example, and I have a beautiful baby girl now precisely because virtual assurance isn’t real and I never took any of your comfort from it in the first place; what is real is the fact that Catholic NFP does not block the natural process and is open to the incredible gift of life bestowed by God.

    Now, it seems to me you’ve had to admit that no such natural process is blocked in an individual instance, so you’re now committed (?) to arguing instead that, somehow—despite the fact that individual acts don’t block the natural process—NFP nevertheless does block the process overall and is, therefore, morally indistinguishable from contraception. Is that right?

  94. Andrew:

    Quite evidently, your aim is to press the common criticism that the developed Catholic teaching on birth control is self-inconsistent. But your arguments fail to advance that case.

    1. You agreed with the following statement of mine: “An individual act that is intrinsically evil cannot be made otherwise by being a constitutive means within a larger, morally acceptable end involving a totality of acts and attitudes.” You then rejected the following statement of mine: “The only pertinent question is whether an act whose procreative potential is deliberately blocked is intrinsically evil or not.” And you rejected it by saying that “it is also a pertinent and necessary question to ask about the larger moral goal of the process.” That claim is at best arbitrary and at worst self-inconsistent. Why? Because if the end, the “larger moral goal,” does not justify the means–which is what you conceded when you agreed with me–then why would it also be “pertinent and necessary” to ask what that end or goal is in order to determine whether the means are justified? We already granted, ex hypothesi, that the end is justified; we’ve also granted that the end does not necessarily justify the means. So you’ve given no principled reason for accepting my first statement while rejecting my second.

    2. I stated: “What’s morally unacceptable, according to Catholic doctrine, is not the mere employment of such a[n artificial] device, but the couple’s intent to block the generative process when it would otherwise occur–whether that intent is carried out with an “artificial device” or not.” You replied:

    But this is just what the couple using NFP is doing – they are circumventing the natural generative process. This is much easier to see when you look at the planning process over a given month or months. The only real difference, given the unreliability of many barrier methods, is that the practitioner of NFP circumvents the generative process much more effectively over any given month. There is some comfort taken by those utilizing NFP that they are not blocking the process with a given act of sex. But even here they are consciously choosing to have sex when they are virtually assured that they won’t conceive. And you want to say that this is NOT circumventing the natural procreative process? I would understand our ultra-conservative friends making this case, but not a user of NFP.

    The key premise of your argument is that circumventing the generative process is morally equivalent to blocking the generative process. Now back in #65, I granted that there are cases when that is true. If a couple’s reasons for avoiding conception aren’t weighty enough, then they are in the wrong regardless of whether they use NFP or contraception. But Humanae Vitae, along with the Catholic tradition in general, denies that circumventing the generative process is always and necessarily morally equivalent to blocking it. The former is sometimes justified, but the latter is never justified. That’s the claim you’re rejecting.

    In previous comments, I’ve alluded to the reasoning behind that claim. But judging from your last several paragraphs, it seems you don’t see them as reasons at all, never mind as demonstrative reasons. What that tells me is that you have not really understood the argument.

    E.g., I stated: “When we actively alter human physiology to sever intercourse from procreation, what we get is lust–i.e., mutual objectification—rather than moral responsibility. That is not self-evident to a lot of people, but I think the effects of the so-called “sexual revolution” on our society makes it evident enough.” To that, you objected: “So how about when the user of NFP severs intercourse from procreation by their choices?” Now I thought I’d already answered that objection in #65, where I wrote: “What can make them different is this: in contraception, one is working against what God has designed by changing the nature of the act, whereas with NFP one is working with what God has designed by restricting the act to circumstances that would obtain naturally, aside from human action.” Doubtless you’d object that nothing has shown that difference to be morally significant. But in point of fact, Humanae Vitae gives two arguments that the difference between working against the design and working with the design carries moral significance.

    One occurs in §13:

    Men rightly observe that a conjugal act imposed on one’s partner without regard to his or her condition or personal and reasonable wishes in the matter, is no true act of love, and therefore offends the moral order in its particular application to the intimate relationship of husband and wife. If they further reflect, they must also recognize that an act of mutual love which impairs the capacity to transmit life which God the Creator, through specific laws, has built into it, frustrates His design which constitutes the norm of marriage, and contradicts the will of the Author of life. Hence to use this divine gift while depriving it, even if only partially, of its meaning and purpose, is equally repugnant to the nature of man and of woman, and is consequently in opposition to the plan of God and His holy will. But to experience the gift of married love while respecting the laws of conception is to acknowledge that one is not the master of the sources of life but rather the minister of the design established by the Creator. Just as man does not have unlimited dominion over his body in general, so also, and with more particular reason, he has no such dominion over his specifically sexual faculties, for these are concerned by their very nature with the generation of life, of which God is the source.

    Now one nice thing about that argument is the point about marital rape at the beginning. Nobody would say that a particular act of forcing sex on one’s partner is OK so long as the overall marital relationship is loving. We’ve come to see that the very idea is ridiculous. A man cannot excuse marital rape by saying: “Look, my wife and I love each other. Since she loves me, she shouldn’t object to my having my way with her whenever I want, even if she really doesn’t want it. She should do the duty that love requires, and if she won’t, I’ll make her.” Such a stance, and rationalization, would be incompatible with marital love. Similarly, it cannot be said that using coitus interruptus, anal intercourse, barriers, or artificial hormones to prevent conception is compatible with the procreative purpose of marriage, even when, in some cases and for a period of time, utilizing the woman’s natural cycle to avoid conception can be licit.

    What Paul VI took for granted in the paragraph I quoted, along with the entire tradition of Christendom prior to 1930, is that to physically alter the the conjugal act itself, so as to prevent what would likely and otherwise occur as a result of that act, is to proceed as if one were “the master of the sources of life” rather than the “minister of the design established by the Creator”—whereas with NFP, one is not doing that. Couples using NFP might be failing to respect the true meaning of conjugal love for other reasons, i.e. when their reasons for avoiding conception are insufficiently weighty. But even when that is so, they are not doing the specific kind of wrong that contraception does.

    Now it seems to me that, if you want to deny the moral significance of that distinction, as it applies to individual acts, the burden is on you to show that the entire tradition of Christendom before 1930 was wrong. The notion that contraception is always wrong, but that periodic continence can be a legitimate means of birth control, was not something the Catholic Church invented out of whole cloth in the 20th century. It is fully consistent with both the theory and practice of the Christian world from the beginning. Paul VI was not so dull as to fail to see his own self-inconsistency; he was simply reaffirming the tradition on this point. Now if you want to argue that the tradition itself was self-inconsistent, go right ahead. But that would make you and your church the doctrinal innovators on this point, not the papacy.

    Another argument in HV, which I adumbrated, is this:

    Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

    Now what we’ve seen since The Pill was introduced for mass consumption 50 years ago is precisely what Paul VI predicted: a “general lowering of moral standards.” Now perhaps you’ve led a sheltered life, but I really shouldn’t have to spell it all out for you. Do you really think that the ease with which sex can be rendered sterile, when it would otherwise be fertile, has nothing to do with the steep decline in sexual morality we’ve seen since the 1960s? If so, then you really have led a sheltered life.

    At this point, I’ve only stated a few of the reasons why Catholic doctrine makes a moral distinction between contraception and NFP. But in my experience, the one that most resonates with people who come to see the force of the doctrine is Pope John Paul II’s “personalistic” argument. In marriage, a sign and instrument of God’s love for his people, a couple pledge to make a complete gift of themselves to each other. That includes the gift of their fertility, their capacity to cooperate with God in bringing new life into the world as an expression of their love. Whenever a couple contracepts, they are actively withholding that gift because they are working against God’s design. When a couple uses NFP, they might be withholding the gift–if their reasons for avoiding conception are insufficient–but they needn’t be, because they are working with God’s design.

  95. Andrew,

    What Mike just said. Here are some additional points aimed at clarification.

    You said:

    Catholic teaching tries to move from the general principles of affirming the procreative function of sex to the particular application that each and every sexual act must actively reflect this principle

    I assume you accept the “general” principal that procreation is a (one of the) function(s) of sex. But what can the term “sex” mean without reference to the sexual act? If there is no sexual act, there is no sex. Thus, it would seem quite reasonable that the “general” principal that procreation is a function of sex applies to that by which the term “sex” is understood: namely, sexual acts. In other words, unless you can somehow define “sex” in a generic way without reference to sexual acts themselves, any “general” principal which applies to the term “sex” must also apply to its “particular” manifestation in sexual acts. In short, since procreation is one of the functions of “sex”, and “sex” is a meaningless term without reference to sexual “acts”, it follows that procreation is a function of each and every sexual act. This logic can only be avoided by way of an inchoate confusion which implies that “sex” is something other than acts of sexual intercourse.

    Consider what happens if one accepts the confused notion that “sex” is something different from “each and every sexual act”. In this conception, not every sexual act is, properly speaking, – “sex”. Hence, there is no need that “each and every” particular sexual “act” share a function which happens to be a general principal of “sex” per se. Some sexual acts need not share the “general” procreative “function” of the term “sex”; whereas others presumably must. For if no “particular” sexual acts need ever have a procreative function, then the assertion that “”sex has a procreative function” becomes, as a general principle, utterly unintelligible. But if only some subset of all sexual acts need have a procreative function in order to fulfill the general principal that “sex” has a procreative function, then in what sense can the non-procreative acts be considered as “sex” at all? They may be acts, but they are not “sex” acts. They are sub-sexual, that is, less than sex. They entail a privation of some good (more properly speaking an “capacity” for some good, which capacity is itself a good) which ought to be present in the act for it to be truly, a “sex” act. But this is just what the Catholic doctrine points out. The contracepting couple deprive the sexual act of its capacity for procreation, thereby preventing a good or potency that ought to be present in the act if it is to be considered as properly sexual. Contraception is an evil because it eliminates or hinders a capacity for good that ought to be present in the sexual act. It is a disorder.

    Not every sexual act has the same capacity for fertilization, and hence, the generation of life. By the design of God, the capacity of sexual acts to generate life ebbs and flows (no pun intended) with changes in the level of fertility (capacity for fertilization) within a woman’s body throughout her monthly cycle. Normally, by the same design of God, the male is fertile, unless he is physiologically impotent, which is understood as an abnormality (like blindness or lameness). The point is that the capacities for generation of life (procreation) which exist in both the man and the woman, (even though, these capacitates vary in strength over time) are goods created by God. To actively remove these capacities, is to force the privation of a good, which is (by definition) evil. It is to force the privation of a good in the act itself. Contraception does just this. Thus, “each and every” act in which the couple deprives the sexual act of a capacity, or good, which it would otherwise intrinsically possess by nature (read God’s design) is intrinsically evil (again by definition). One cannot knowingly perform an intrinsically evil act in order to achieve a morally acceptable (or desirable) goal without culpability.

    By contrast, the couple practicing NFP, NEVER blocks a God-given capacity for procreation in either the man or the woman during the sexual act. When having intercourse during “infertile” periods, the NFP couple is fully embracing whatever capacities for life exist within the man and the woman at the moment the sexual act is performed. To abstain from a sexual act altogether (say during the fertile times of a woman’s cycle) is not intrinsically evil. The only way in which abstinence (in any sense, not just sexual) can be intrinsically evil, is if by abstaining from some “act” one is withholding or omitting some good which by nature (God’s design) ought to exist. Now children are a good which, under normal conditions, ought to exist within a marriage: “be fruitful and multiply”. However, there is no specification to be found within natural revelation or supernatural revelation as to just how many children a couple ought to produce. Clearly, having no children at all (intentionally that is, not by virtue of natural defect) is to deprive the marriage of a good which ought to inhere therein (namely children), and is therefore evil – a grave sin of omission. This is why the Catholic Church insists EVEN WITH REGARD TO NFP PRACTICIONERS that there be grave (morally justifiable) reasons for abstinence during the fertile periods of a woman’s cycle.

    On the other hand, one cannot interpret the moral imperative that married couples procreate in a way which is divorced from the contingent processes of the natural order. The imperative is clearly given in the context of natural contingency. A couple cannot copulate at every moment (sorry gents), nor practically speaking, every half-hour, or hour, or day. I mean, we must at least eat, sleep, pay the bills, etc. – right?. Thus, it is ridiculously obvious that the command to “be fruitful and multiply” entails spans of time in which the couple will not be engaged in sexual intercourse. They will temporarily “abstain” from sexual acts because there are other moral responsibilities (eating, sleeping, paying bills) which, justified in light of their overall married vocation, they must carry out. Hence, “abstinence” from the sexual act, absolutely speaking, far from being intrinsically evil, is practically necessary. The practice of NFP involves periods of “abstinence” which last for a longer time period (say 10 days rather than 10 minutes or 10 hours) and for the very same reason: ” because there are other moral responsibilities which, justified in light of their overall married vocation, they must carry out”. Such abstinence is the same in kind, though not in degree. The couple’s prayerful consideration of the nature and magnitude of their marital responsibilities may entail that a pregnancy during some phase of their married life will make it difficult to meet such responsibilities. Their knowledge of the physiology (God designed nature) of the menstrual cycle, and their choice to abstain during phases within the cycle known to possess a lower capacity for fertilization is simply a means by which the couple can prevent pregnancy without engaging in an intrinsically evil act.

    Pax et Bonum,

    -Ray

  96. Ray,

    A thought sprung to my mind when reading your comment. By what you’ve described, it is possible to laud Bill Clinton’s intellectual honesty and consistency in understanding the true nature of ‘sex’ (while, of course, denouncing his sin) when he stated that he “did not have sexual relations” with Monica Lewinski. Since, we he truly engaged in was a distortion of the act of ‘sex’, thus, by definition, not really sex at all.

    Perhaps it is because the secular modernists have, through their definition of ‘sex’, distorted the meaning of the word ‘sex’ and this distorted meaning has been accepted, even by most Christians in America, that Christians, in large part, charged Clinton with lying under oath for his statement.

    Perhaps, as well, it was the widespread acceptance of contraception by Christians, mainly Protestant, throughout the last century that enabled the secular modernists to twist the meaning, by definition, of the sexual act. Thus, understanding Catholic teaching on the subject is made all the more difficult for them because they must accept the secular modernist definition of ‘sex’ in order to accept their belief that the use of contraception is morally licit.

    Interesting as well is a very clear parallel in Catholic teaching, based on Natural Law, reason, and biological science, between the use of contraception and homosexual acts, beastiality, necrophilia, masturbation, etc. that has been made numerous times in this combox. It is because Catholic teaching follows and accepts the implications of natural law, science, and reason that these parallels can be drawn, and these parallels are completely logical and consistent.

    So, in order to avoid drawing those parallels, one *must* re-invent the definiton of ‘sex’ to introduce any and everything that is foreign to the actual purpose and meaning of ‘sex’ as shown through Natural Law, reason, and biological science.

    If that is really what is in effect here, the Protestant Christians (and Catholics who flagrantly disobey the teachings of the Church on contraception) are in a worse position than we think, for they are siding with the modernist secular definition of the sexual act that favors hedonism over all of the physical and spiritual evidence and knowledge given to us by God Himself that shows the contrary. Is this any different than Adam choosing to become “like a god”?

  97. Andrew.

    The marriage act is designed by God to be both unitive (two will become one flesh) and procreative (be fruitful and multiple).

    The couple practicing NFP maintains both the procreative and unitive elements every single time they come together in the marital act.

    The couple practicing artificial birth control does not.

    Its pretty straight forward.

  98. Ray:

    Thank you. You have elegantly spelled out what ought to be obvious but apparently isn’t. Taking it as obvious, I had contented myself with pointing out, in my second paragraph, that Andrew had offered no principled reason for denying, on the one hand, that end justifies the means, but affirming, on the other hand, that we must make reference to the “larger moral goal,” i.e. the end, in evaluating the means. That position simply assumes that non-abortifacient contraception, unlike abortifacient contraception, is not intrinsically evil. The only reason Andrew seems to give for that assumption is that the Catholic Church has given no reason to deny it. But of course, she has. We’ve been stating where and how.

    Sean:

    The matter is not quite as straightforward as you say. A couple using NFP to remain permanently childless is not respecting the procreative end of marriage. A couple using NFP so that they can pay for a new BMW before having to deal with another child is not cooperating with God in responsible parenthood. They are putting pleasure before the kind of love to which they are called.

    The question at issue is really whether NFP can respect that end while, at the same time, contraception cannot. As one conservative Catholic acquaintance of mine put it: “Contraception is intrinsically wrong, and so always wrong. NFP is wrong for the most part, but can occasionally be right.” Now that position might seem a bit extreme to contemporary American Catholics, but there’s more than a grain of truth in it. Hardly anybody would object to an African couple with eight kids, living in a straw hut with no toilet, electricity, or running water, avoiding conception by means of NFP. Hardly anybody would object to an American couple using NFP when pregnancy would pose a clear and present danger to the life of the mother. But many young American Catholic couples who use NFP are doing so for far less weighty reasons. I can’t judge anybody’s conscience in particular, but I’m pretty sure that a good many of those cases are unjustified. That’s not good evangelism for the Faith.

    Everyone:

    I notice that the PCA has just approved ordaining actively gay and lesbian clergy while refusing to bless same-sex unions. As my friend and ex-colleague Kevin Staley-Joyce remarks: “The fact [that] this is an incremental compromise is evidenced by the logical incompatibility of the two decisions: If gay romance is not only ethical but healthy and appropriate for spiritual leaders, how can it not be enshrined in a church marriage?”

    This whole kabuki dance is evidence that mainline Protestantism has simply lost a truly Christian understanding of sexuality as well as of ordination. Many of the more conservative Protestants, of course, still insist that sodomy is wrong and that same-sex “marriage” is an abomination. They say that stance is biblical. Indeed it is, if we assume that what the human authors meant then is what God means even now—an assumption that the leadership of mainline Protestant denominations increasingly rejects. But once it’s conceded that married couples may actively render infertile sexual acts that would otherwise be fertile, there simply is no logical barrier to holding that a sexual relationship can be good, even sanctifying, when the sexual acts are not the sort of acts that can lead to conception. That’s why resistance to same-sex marriage is slowly but steadily collapsing in the Mainline. The ordination of actively gay and lesbian clergy is only a stage in the dance.

    Best,
    Mike

  99. Michael,

    A point of clarification: the denomination that just approved ordaining actively gay and lesbian clergy is the PCUSA, not the PCA.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  100. Thanks for that correction, Bryan. I’m not sure how much that affects the substance of the argument itself, but it sure helps me avoid slandering the PCA!

  101. Rose (re:#86),

    I hope that, in all of the responses to Andrew, my reply to you will not be overlooked. In regard to your statement about “whether the sperm gets in or not” seeming “trivial,” please see my reply to JJS at comment #52. Thank you for interacting with us here.

  102. Rose,

    As you are a Reformed Baptist, I will share a detail that may, or may not, be of interest as we interact– I am a former Reformed Baptist (and former member of a somewhat well-known Reformed Baptist church in D.C.) who has returned to the Catholic Church this year.

    A year ago, I would not have *imagined* that I would ever return to the Church that I fervently held to teach a “false gospel of works,” but God brought me into contact with writings which caused me to re-examine many passages of the Bible that I was *sure* I had interpreted correctly as a Reformed Baptist. In so doing, against all that I had once expected, God brought me back to the Catholic Church.

  103. Rose, Michael, and others,

    Lots of good replies to me here, but I’m snowed under with work today and it looks like it will last until the weekend. I will check back then and see if the thread is still active and perhaps respond back to some of your comments.

    Cheers….

  104. @ Anyone who’s interested but especially @Andrew

    I’m getting at the discussion a bit late, so I hope what I’m about to say isn’t redundant…

    It is true that NFP and other forms of birth control have the same intention of not having children, but I don’t believe that not having children is an ‘evil’ intention. But as I’m sure you know, Catholic moral teaching is not based exclusively on intentions, but on the nature of the act itself. In the case of NFP vs. contraception, the nature of the act (as I’m sure many have pointed out) is completely different. Contraception intentionally sterilizes an act that is naturally ordered to be fruitful. Having sex during an infertile period is NOT sterilizing the act because the act is already sterile by its nature! Furthermore, NFP embraces the goodness of human nature and how humans participate in the sexual experience while contraception implicitly treats human nature as a bad thing… something that needs to be fixed in order to be good (for example, it should seem strange to the Christian or person of good sense that a woman can walk into a Planned Parenthood clinic and ask for a pill to make her perfectly healthy reproductive system not function properly… to do so is to imply that her perfectly healthy reproductive system is inherently flawed).

    But there is a deeper spiritual reality here in that contraception does not model the total gift of self that is modeled by our Lord on the cross. The person contracepting withholds something of him or herself from their spouse. Perhaps even worse, an act of intentionally sterilized intercourse is not a an act of receiving of the total gift of self that a spouse is supposed to make towards the other. If sexual intercourse is the act that ‘enfleshes’ and renews the wedding vows, a couple’s pledge to love each other in the free, total, faithful, and fruitful way that makes visible Christ’s love for the Church, then contraception is basically a lie. The act of contracepting says, “I take you as my husband/wife, except your fertility because its really inconvenient to me right now.”

    The sexual act is to be free, total, faithful, and fruitful because Christs love for the Church is free, total, faithful, and fruitful. It is free because we did not do anything to earn it and Christ did so out of an act of his will. It is total because Christ went all the way to death out of love for us. It is faithful because He promised to be faithful. It is fruitful because we have new life in Christ. It is the teaching of the Catholic Church that every sexual act must model this. Some here are saying that fruitfulness shouldn’t have to occur in every act. Well, would you say that about any of the other qualities of the act? Would you say that not every act of intercourse has to be free? That once in a while its ok for the husband to rape his wife if its against her will? Or that once in a while its ok for a couple to not be faithful to each other and to swap with a couple up the street? Of course you wouldn’t. So neither should we say that its ok to intentionally sterilize an act of intercourse.

    Of course, I think some reading on the relationship between particular acts and the ‘fundamental option’ might be appropriate, in which case I refer the reader to the great encyclical Veritatis Splendor (especially sections 65-68).

  105. Joe,

    Yes, the denial or incomprehension of “natural law” is the crucial problem in sexual ethics. As Bryan mentioned in #83, the substrata of this error arises from philosophical deontology (Kant and others) and the consequent denial of “embodied” or natural teleology. Even in the modern science of biology, formal talk of “teleology” inherent in biological organisms is avoided like the plague – even though methodologically, biologists unavoidably and routinely speak of the “purpose” of an organism or appendage, etc. Teleology bound up with final causality is simply “there” as part of the observed data. Its “thereness”, however, is implicitly (or sometimes explicitly) ignored because, frankly, everyone understands that if such a “reality” is admitted as ontologically “real”; then the entire force of traditional natural law argumentation with regard to ethics, as well as the science of metaphysics, both re-emerge with all their vigor – and with all of their theistic and moral implications. That which modern philosophy and modern empirical science believed to have been safely relegated to the dust-bin of history would threaten to undo much of the modernist project. The rumblings and footsteps of such a re-emergence within the purview of the empirical sciences and the wider culture is a point of severe anxiety for many a modern intellectual. This is the philosophical battlefront of our times. It is no surprise though, really, for it has always been such a battle front – as St. Paul knew so well:

    “Because that which is known of God is manifest in them. For God has manifested it unto them. 20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made. His eternal power also and divinity: so that they are inexcusable. 21 Because that, when they knew God, they have not glorified him as God or given thanks: but became vain in their thoughts. And their foolish heart was darkened. 22 For, professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. . . . . Wherefore, God gave them up to the desires of their heart, unto uncleanness: to dishonour their own bodies among themselves. . . . For their women have changed the natural use into that use which is against nature. 27 And, in like manner, the men also, leaving the natural use of the women, have burned in their lusts, one towards another: men with men, working that which is filthy and receiving in themselves the recompense which was due to their error. “

    Pax et Bonum,

    -Ray

  106. oops – meant to close that italic after the word “implications” – sorry

  107. Ray, I apologize for the digression, but I find this interesting. When I was having a discussion on abortion (which rapidly turned into a debate) with a few “pro-choice” or indifferent Protestant brethren in a pub in Michigan, I explained that abortion was murder and can never be considered a “human right” using, as my foundation, biology, embryology, genetics, Natural Law and reason. Once I inescapably proved that the human becomes an individual, unique human at the point of conception based on the above, I then appealed to them on contemporary terms (details I will not go into because they are unnecessary). When they could no longer disprove my position or my conclusions, I received some of the most surprising responses from them that I’ll never forget.

    1) Science is just another man’s Bible! [I thought this was really strange coming from a Protestant]
    2) You have your science, I have mine.

    Though this discussion was only remotely related to contraception (even though abortion and contraception are two peas in a pod), the conclusion from the detracting side seemed to be eerily the same.

    “Yeah, well I’ll just re-define ‘science’ to support my view then… you can have your science.”

    And, like you said, no matter how hard they try to do this, they will never be able to make their definition logical. So, their definition becomes like a slang word, it has no etymology.

  108. A worthy post:

    http://ericsammons.com/blog/2010/07/15/nfp-is-not-catholic-birth-control/

  109. “a woman can walk into a Planned Parenthood clinic and ask for a pill to make her perfectly healthy reproductive system not function properly… to do so is to imply that her perfectly healthy reproductive system is inherently flawed”

    This point is related to one Christopher Lake made in #52: “Sperm is *not* just ‘stuff.’” In a gender-symmetrical way, it could be said: “Ovulation is not just any secretion”. That came to my mind several years ago when I had an episode of gastritis and had to take an inhibitor of gastric acid secretion for about a month. The thought that immediately came to my mind was: “If it is morally OK for anyone to inhibit gastric acid secretion for a time to preserve the well-being of their stomach (which needs a rest from further exposure to acid), why shouldn’t it be morally OK for a woman to inhibit ovulation for a time to preserve the well-being of their family (which needs a rest from further enlargement for biological, psychological, or economical reasons)?” Of course, I am talking about inhibition of ovulation as a means to avoid conception. It is clear that inhibition of ovulation as a side effect of the treatment of a health condition does not present any moral problem.

    Although the answer is already implicit in previous posts, maybe one of the fertile (pun intended) writers here would care to address this particular phrasing of the objection.

  110. Let’s see if I succeeded in ending the italics.

  111. @Joe Palmer:

    not really sex at all

    I confess that I generally shrink from referring to the activities of homosexuals as ‘sex.’ They are activities involving the sexual organs, to be sure – those organs are sexual organs as that is what they are for – but I find it difficult to refer to what is done with those organs in those cases as ‘sex.’

    FWIW :-)

    jj

  112. In my view, these two equivalent statements:

    Ray at #90: “Clearly, having no children at all (intentionally that is, not by virtue of natural defect) is to deprive the marriage of a good which ought to inhere therein (namely children), and is therefore evil – a grave sin of omission.”

    Michael at #93: “A couple using NFP to remain permanently childless is not respecting the procreative end of marriage.”

    although valid under “normal” conditions, cannot be made in an absolute way. I am thinking specifically of people living in abject poverty (think Haiti or the slums around some big 3rd world cities.) Let’s imagine a man and a woman who love each other and, despite their condition of abject poverty, have plenty of common sense. They know that they would not be able to provide their potential offspring with adequate nourishment, let alone adequate education. They also know that their economic condition is extremely unlikely to change. So, is the only morally correct path for them to remain celibate until they are 55 years old? Or would it also be morally correct for them to get married with the intention of remaining childless (using NFP) unless they win the lottery ticket they buy once a year? (In other words, they would be willing to have children on condition of the occurrence of an extremely improbable event.)

    Although this point is mostly academic because people in these conditions are unlikely to make these considerations, and in fact are usually the segment with the most numerous offspring, I think that even a very small scope of applicability makes it deserve adequate consideration.

  113. Johannes,

    They also know that their economic condition is extremely unlikely to change. So, is the only morally correct path for them to remain celibate until they are 55 years old?

    The assumption here is that the prevention of a birth in these admittedly poor circumstances intrinsically entails a higher degree of moral good than the generation of a new child. Both the parents, as well as the “would-be” child are spared the human suffering and difficulties associated with sustinance, health, etc related to child care in poor economic conditions. It is really a version of “it were better that he/she had never been born” argument.

    The problem with this argument is that the value of a human life, the generation of a new soul destined for an eternal union with God, far outweighs the cost of temporal suffering necessarily associated with the generation of human souls within a finite, changing world. In other words, if it were possible to stand outside of the created universe before the moment of my conception, and God were to offer me the choice between non-existence (no suffering, but no possibility of eternal glorification), or else the certainty of temporal suffering, but with an available path to eternal glorification and beatitude; I would choose being over non-being every time. I think of St Pauls words (paraphrased) that he considered all the sufferings of this age as virtually nothing BY COMPARISON to the glory that awaits him. Every human being brought into this world faces suffering of some kind – that is the nature of a finite universe. There are however, due to the contingncies of nature and the moral evil of mankind, variations in the degree of suffering experienced by any one person or set of persons in any given place or time.

    I simply deny that any of these sufferings outweigh the intrinsic good of “human existence” per se. To say otherwise would be, indirectly, to call into question the wisdom of God in bringing forth a finite world in the first place since it was to “gather for Himself a people” that He created at all. So the morally responsible thing to do is to have children – despite the suffering (and of course, Hatians DO have children). My point was that “how many” children is a prudential judgement requiring an assessment of circumstance best understood by the particular couple in question. It is here between the extreme options of no children at all (gravely immoral within the vocation of marriage) and a new pregnance every 12- 18 months that degrees of suffering, difficulty and circumstance have a bearing. The difficulty of life in Haiti, no doubt presents a far different set of contingincies for a maried couples consideration than those faced by a typical suburban American couple. But even the circumstances in Haiti do not justify the generation of no children at all within the vocation of marriage.

    “If it is morally OK for anyone to inhibit gastric acid secretion for a time to preserve the well-being of their stomach (which needs a rest from further exposure to acid), why shouldn’t it be morally OK for a woman to inhibit ovulation for a time to preserve the well-being of their family (which needs a rest from further enlargement for biological, psychological, or economical reasons)?”

    The reason that you “inhibit gastric acid secretion” in the case you mention above is because you had gastritis, which a physical defect for which you sought a cure. It nvolved a privation of good – i.e. the health operation of the gastric system. A woman’s normal ovulatory cycle does not constitute “ovulationitis”, it is not a defect, but rather the healthy, “good”, proper operation of her reproductive system. Ovulation is a natural “end”, designed by God. Excess gastric secretion is contrary to the natural “end” of the gastric sysem as designed by God. Hence is is proper to inhibit the latter, but not the former.

    Pax et Bonum,

    -Ray

  114. It seem the italics virus that’s taken over this thread started in comment #100. Must be a bit of errant HTML code there.

  115. Johannes,

    Let me try that last paragraph from #108 again since it is so full of typos – I was in a big hurry this am so I had no time to clean it up.

    “The reason that you “inhibit gastric acid secretion” in the case you mention above is because you had gastritis, which is a physical defect for which you sought a cure. It involved a privation of good – i.e. the healthy operation of the gastric system. A woman’s normal ovulatory cycle does not constitute “ovulationitis”, it is not a defect, but rather the healthy, “good”, proper operation of her reproductive system. Ovulation is a natural “end”, designed by God. Excess gastric secretion is contrary to the natural “end” of the gastric system as designed by God. Hence it is proper to inhibit the latter, but not the former.”

    Pax et Bonum,

    -Ray

  116. “Every human being brought into this world faces suffering of some kind – that is the nature of a finite universe.”

    To be accurate, that’s the reason why animals face suffering. The suffering of physical evil by humans was not part of the original design in creation, as man was originally “shielded” from the physical evil that would have affected him otherwise as a result of its biological nature: as long as man remained in the divine intimacy, he would not have to suffer or die (Gen 2:17; 3:16, 19). It was as a result of original sin that man lost that privilege (“preternatural gift”) and became subject to physical evil just as animals are.

  117. Ray, please allow me to try to be more precise on the first topic you addressed in #108. I’m not talking about the average Haitian, but those in the economic low end of Haitian incomes. Specifically I’m talking about a couple that today can barely get enough food for themselves to survive. So the potential baby would not just face a hard life: he will suffer outright starvation (remember that infants are much less able to cope with malnutrition than adults are). Can you confirm that your view is that even in this case the couple must still procreate? (I’m afraid that it is, because after all if their child dies in infancy he will go to Heaven as long as he was baptized, and sure enough “the sufferings of his short life would be virtually nothing BY COMPARISON to the glory that awaits him”.)

    Yet there is still a charity-based consideration that could justify for the couple to remain childless, and it is the incremental benefit to the children of the other couples of their segment and region: if the quantity of available food is constrained, one less potential mouth increases the odds of avoiding starvation or malnutrition of the existing actual mouths. Thus the other couples, instead of scorning the childless one as selfish, should rightly tell them “Thank you for increasing the odds of survival of MY offspring.”

    This line of reasoning is surely unpleasant, but may I suggest not to discard it completely, because it might become more and more applicable if (when?) the next biofuel craze starts in earnest. The 3rd horseman might come back in a few years driving a biodiesel- or ethanol-powered SUV.

  118. Ray, I hope you will bear an additional comment on your views in the first part of #108.

    You are weighing the benefit of the coming into existence of a human being in terms of his prospects of eternal glory versus the cost in terms of his prospects of temporal suffering. While this concept is correct, the problem with your reasoning, and as a consequence with your conclusion about the morally correct path to be followed by every married couple, is that you make your reasoning within a “fixed total time” framework.

    To explain what I mean by that, I need to refer to the two ways of speaking we (and the Scriptures) use to refer to God’s knowledge and activity. We can speak in a “figurative anthropomorphic” way, in which God learns and makes decisions “in real time” (“LORD, hear my prayer; listen to my cry for help.” Ps 86), or we can speak in the “strict theological” way, in which God knew everything and made all decisions from eternity (“Even before a word is on my tongue, LORD, you know it all.” Ps 139). While it is OK to use the figurative way of speaking because thinking permanently in terms of the strict theological way is just overwhelming (as the same Ps 139 says: “Such knowledge is beyond me, far too lofty for me to reach.”), we have to take care that we use a “correct” figurative way, meaning that it can be “mapped” into the strict theological way, and not a “reduced” or “impoverished” one.

    With this in mind, let’s get back to your reasoning. You are framing the choice of a married couple as if God has already fixed the time of the Second Coming, so that if the couple does not procreate the number of children they were supposed to have (at the very least one), at the end of days there will be fewer people enjoying eternal glory. Conceivably, at the Last Judgment the Lord will show the voluntarily childless couples all the seats that remain empty in Heaven and tell them “It is your fault that these seats will remain vacant, as I had prepared them for the children that you refused to procreate”. This is definitely a most reduced, impoverished figurative way of describing God’s knowledge and action: not only does He learn about our decisions in real time but also He cannot do anything to compensate for them!

    In my view, this is the “correct” figurative way of speaking: assuming that God wants a certain number of people in Heaven, if some couples have fewer children than they were “supposed” to have (including voluntarily remaining childless) He will just postpone the Second Coming to give more time for the generation of additional people. Importantly, this view is wholly in line with the teaching in 2 Pe 3:9 that God delays Jesus’ Second Coming out of being patient with us, “not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance”: if God delays the Second Coming to give time for the justification of sinners, which is a new supernatural creation, it is perfectly legitimate to think that He can also delay it to give time for the natural creation (in conception) and new supernatural creation (in Baptism) of additional righteous.

    At this point it could be objected that the same passage, when it exhorts the faithful to conduct themselves “in holiness and devotion, waiting for AND HASTENING the coming of the day of God” (2 Pe 3:11-12), could be interpreted as disapproving ANY course of action, including voluntarily remaining childless, that would prompt God to delay the Second Coming. In my view, this is not the case. Rather, the exhortation is intended first for the faithful not to be themselves those sinners in attention to whom God is delaying the Second Coming to give them time to repent, and secondly for the faithful to give testimony before the sinners so that they repent, in line with 1 Pe 2:12: “Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that if they speak of you as evildoers, they may observe your good works and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (By the way, the expansion of the concept of “conducting themselves in holiness and devotion” in 2 Pe 1:5-7 is extremely pertinent to the broad topic under discussion: “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion, devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love.”)

    In this “variable total time” framework, the choice is not between non-existence and temporal suffering (which anyway applies in exactly the same way to the cases of a couple deciding between having 7 or 8 children and a couple deciding between having 0 or 1, so it cannot be the decisive criterion to brand voluntary childlessness as immoral). The choice is between existence in an expanded timeframe with less suffering and existence in a compressed timeframe with lots of suffering. I find the first choice much more in agreement with the commandment of love, which according to 2 Pe 1:5-7 is the essential context for interpreting the “hastening” of 2 Pe 3:11-12.

    Of course, the “strict theological” way to describe things is to say that God knows in eternity how many children each couple will have and has correspondingly set the day of the Second Coming so that there will be the intended number of people in Heaven. It can be seen that the “correct” figurative way of speaking can be mapped into this, but the “reduced” figurative way cannot.

  119. Johannes:

    You’re making all this more complicated than it should be. Given the Catholic understanding of the nature of marriage, if two young people are so poor they can barely survive, they should not marry at all. If they are already married, they should avoid conception until they can improve their circumstances. But to posit, as a hypothesis, that they have no realistic chance of improving their circumstances, is to take as fact what cannot be known. It is therefore unrealistic as a model of deliberation.

    The move you’re making is common among skeptical ethicists: inventing a hard, hypothetical case in order to cast doubt on the putatively applicable norm. Life doesn’t work that way. In many such cases, one might easily forgive people for violating an objectively valid and exceptionless norm. But that’s not the same as saying the norm is incorrect or inapplicable.

    Best,
    Mike

  120. Johannes,

    To be accurate, that’s the reason why animals face suffering. The suffering of physical evil by humans was not part of the original design in creation, as man was originally “shielded” from the physical evil that would have affected him otherwise as a result of its biological nature: as long as man remained in the divine intimacy, he would not have to suffer or die (Gen 2:17; 3:16, 19).

    Of course, I agree with the above. My comment was predicated upon the fact of mankind’s dis-“grace”. Every man, including Adam (after having lost the super-added grace of union with God) has, in fact, suffered. In addition, man’s nature as man is finite; the supperadded gift of supernatural grace gathered this natural finitude into an integrity and unity that enabled a share in the divine life unavailable to man’s nature per se. Finitude implies composition and change. Composition and change constitute imperfection (as compared to God). Imperfection, in all its diverse manifestations throughout the natural order constitutes the basis for our reference to “natural” (as opposed to moral) evil or suffering as in the case of animals (as you suggest) as well as in the case of human beings deprived of God’s supernatural indewlling. That is why I said that natural finitude is the basis of suffering. Though I should have distinguished between suffering (evil) resulting from natural finitude and suffering (evil) resulting from choice or free will.

    Pax et Bonum,

    -Ray

  121. Johannes,

    While this concept is correct, the problem with your reasoning, and as a consequence with your conclusion about the morally correct path to be followed by every married couple, is that you make your reasoning within a “fixed total time” framework. . . . You are framing the choice of a married couple as if God has already fixed the time of the Second Coming, so that if the couple does not procreate the number of children they were supposed to have (at the very least one), at the end of days there will be fewer people enjoying eternal glory. Conceivably, at the Last Judgment the Lord will show the voluntarily childless couples all the seats that remain empty in Heaven and tell them “It is your fault that these seats will remain vacant, as I had prepared them for the children that you refused to procreate”

    I am have not asserted any of the above nor factored a “fixed” versus “variable” “total time” into my argument whatsoever. The above notions concerning God’s knowledge are silly both theologically and philosophically. I do not understand why you are attributing absurdities such as “He learn about our decisions in real time but also He cannot do anything to compensate for them!” to me. In all charity, you have set up a straw man by framing my argument in this way. My argument has nothing to do with predestination, infra vs. supra lapsarianism, God’s “middle knowledge” or foreknowledge, the Second Coming, etc. I never even claimed that a new child would necessarily end up being redeemed. Mere birth does not equal redemption. I simply maintained that human existence, with its potential of eternal union with God intrinsically outweighs – is a higher good – than non-existence with its guarantee of an avoidance of temporal suffering.

    In this “variable total time” framework, the choice is not between non-existence and temporal suffering (which anyway applies in exactly the same way to the cases of a couple deciding between having 7 or 8 children and a couple deciding between having 0 or 1, so it cannot be the decisive criterion to brand voluntary childlessness as immoral). The choice is between existence in an expanded timeframe with less suffering and existence in a compressed timeframe with lots of suffering.

    I simply deny that you or I or anyone should be playing around with “variable total time” frames when considering such moral questions. The real “time frame” in question here is that of the married couple’s earthly existence; more specifically, the particular temporal number of years they are married and physically capable of procreation. Considering marriage as marriage, assuming that its primary “end” is the procreation, nurturing and training of children (if you do not agree with this vision then we are working from entirely different notions of marriage per se); it seems to me that the married couple have three “real time” – this life – pieces of data to work with. 1.) God has established marriage with the procreation of children as its primary end (be fruitful and multiply). 2.) Children are an intrinsic good – the “good” or value of the human soul created in the image of God is greater than the entirety of the natural order (excepting other human souls and angelic spirits). 3.) There are practical necessities which obtain with regard to the birth, nurturing and training of children, the successful carrying out of which will be affected by contingent physical, economic and other circumstances.

    It is with these considerations in hand that the couple must decide with regard to procreation. Why? because these considerations lay within their competency to evaluate. It is not within their competency (or mine or yours) to evaluate “variable total time” in relation to redemptive history as a criterion for deciding whether they should or should not have children in this life. Such considerations belong to the omnipotence and omniscience of God alone. While instructing me with regard to the distinction between anthropomorphic linguistic usages in sacred scripture and proper theological language you quoted the following:

    (as the same Ps 139 says: “Such knowledge is beyond me, far too lofty for me to reach.”)

    But when it comes to evaluating the factors supervening upon moral choices within one’s finite lifetime, you seem to have forgotten the Psalmists insight, for you say:

    In my view, this is the “correct” figurative way of speaking: assuming that God wants a certain number of people in Heaven, if some couples have fewer children than they were “supposed” to have (including voluntarily remaining childless) He will just postpone the Second Coming to give more time for the generation of additional people

    How can you or any other human being possibly achieve anything other than speculation with regard to such matters? Then you say:

    Importantly, this view is wholly in line with the teaching in 2 Pe 3:9 that God delays Jesus’ Second Coming out of being patient with us, “not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance”: if God delays the Second Coming to give time for the justification of sinners, which is a new supernatural creation, it is perfectly legitimate to think that He can also delay it to give time for the natural creation (in conception) and new supernatural creation (in Baptism) of additional righteous

    Its perfectly “legitimate” to think all kinds of things. But when referring to the God’s possible “delay” of the Second Coming what can your (or mine or anyone’s) thoughts be but pure speculation? Again you say:

    In my view, this is not the case. Rather, the exhortation is intended first for the faithful not to be themselves those sinners in attention to whom God is delaying the Second Coming to give them time to repent, and secondly for the faithful to give testimony before the sinners so that they repent, in line with 1 Pe 2:12: “Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that if they speak of you as evildoers, they may observe your good works and glorify God on the day of visitation.”

    I appreciate that this is your personal interpretation; but again, I fail to see how speculation regarding that which hastens or delay’s the Second Coming has any bearing upon the factors which the married couple must consider when making the concrete choice to procreate or not.

    The choice is between existence in an expanded timeframe with less suffering and existence in a compressed timeframe with lots of suffering

    This is the nub of the problem. Neither the couple, nor you, nor me is in a position to pontificate about “existence in an expanded timeframe”. We cannot know that there will be “less suffering” therein based on the particular choices we make in our 60 to 80 years of earthly life (much less the smaller subset of years encompassed by marital fertility). We are not in a position to even compare the choices between an “expanded” versus “compressed” timeframe; much less evaluate how much suffering would exist within either. We would need a God’s-eye view to even begin discussing such distinctions intelligibly. It is for this reason that I reject your “fixed” versus “variable” timeframe thesis as even relevant to the discussion.

    The known facts on the ground during a couple’s married years are that 1.) God has designed child birth, nurturing and training as an intrinsic “end” or purpose of marriage. 2.) Children are an intrinsic good (souls capable of eternal union with God) whose value exceeds the entirety of the created order (excepting other human souls and angels). 3.) The physical necessities of child birth, nurturing and training are affected by physical, economic and other contingencies of the natural order. These facts are knowable by a finite couple in a finite lifetime. They therefore, constitute the factors at play in the procreative decision making process.

    1.) Entails that a couple who within the context of marriage (an institution whose primary end IS children), intentionally opt for no children whatsoever is “willing” contrary to the will of God. Married couples should be pre-disposed as married to order their life so as to facilitate child birth.

    2.) Entails that in considering all of the contingent circumstances which prevail upon their physical existence, they should keep clear focus on the primary eternal value of the human soul and its superiority as an intrinsic good to the temporal “goods” of economic “stability” or physical “security” etc.

    3.) Entails that while such temporal goods can never trump the intrinsic good of the human soul, they are nonetheless, secondary goods, and as such, play a role in the decision making process. Why? Because procreation in marriage implies nurturing and training – not just birth. It is, therefore, appropriate to consider economic and physical conditions insofar as they impact the accomplishment of the entire generative enterprise – including nurturing and training. Within the context of marriage, to intentionally avoid any birth whatsoever, removes the possibility of nurturing and training of a child: the very necessities whose consideration call for the economic / physical evaluation in the first place.

    This does not mean that a couple might not postpone the birth of their first child for some period of time because of such considerations. But they must always be intentionally seeking the conditions necessary for procreation. Conceivably such a couple might inadvertently miss the opportunity altogether due to death or injury of a spouse, for instance. Yet in such a case the intention existed, thereby, mitigating or removing culpability. That is very different from a couple having a general intention never to have children – period. It goes without saying that those who are unaware that procreation is the primary God-designed end of marriage have mitigated or no culpability. In any case, I maintain, however, that the value of the human soul must hold precedence over the value of temporal stability and security.

    My concern, is that the sort of “meta”, trans-historical considerations you are proposing as legitimate factors in the procreative decision making process are (besides being hopelessly conjectural) the sort of “lofty” theories perfectly designed to serve as ready made theological excuses for selfishness or ill-formed moral judgment. Not that you are asserting them as such; simply that they are easily such given human weakness.

    the choice is not between non-existence and temporal suffering

    On the contrary, yes it is, both with regard to 1 child or 8. For those are the two options which the couple is in a position to evaluate competently.

    Pax et Bonum

    -Ray

  122. Thank you Ray for your response. Back to my comment #107, the reason why these two equivalent statements:

    Ray at #90: “Clearly, having no children at all (intentionally that is, not by virtue of natural defect) is to deprive the marriage of a good which ought to inhere therein (namely children), and is therefore evil – a grave sin of omission.”

    Michael at #93: “A couple using NFP to remain permanently childless is not respecting the procreative end of marriage.”

    although valid under “normal” conditions, cannot be made in an absolute way, is not any speculative consideration but an explicit magisterial teaching, namely the address of Pius XII to the Congress of the Italian Catholic Union of Obstetricians and the National Federation of Catholic Midwives on October 29, 1951, which is one of the most quoted references in Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, and in fact the only quoted reference in its section 16 “Recourse to infertile periods”. It is available in English at:
    http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Pius12/P12midwives.htm
    http://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/P511029.HTM

    “But in this field also your apostolate demands of you, as women and as Christians, that you know and defend the moral law, to which the application of the theory is subordinated. In this the Church is competent.

    It is necessary first of all to consider two hypotheses. If the application of that theory implies that husband and wife may use their matrimonial right even during the days of natural sterility no objection can be made. In this case they do not hinder or jeopardize in any way the consummation of the natural act and its ulterior natural consequences. It is exactly in this that the application of the theory, of which We are speaking, differs essentially from the abuse already mentioned, which consists in the perversion of the act itself. If, instead, husband and wife go further, that is, limiting the conjugal act exclusively to those periods, then their conduct must be examined more closely.

    Here again we are faced with two hypotheses. If, one of the parties contracted marriage with the intention of limiting the matrimonial right itself to the periods of sterility, and not only its use, in such a manner that during the other days the other party would not even have the right to ask for the debt, than this would imply an essential defect in the marriage consent, which would result in the marriage being invalid, because the right deriving from the marriage contract is a permanent, uninterrupted and continuous right of husband and wife with respect to each other.

    However if the limitation of the act to the periods of natural sterility does not refer to the right itself but only to the use of the right, the validity of the marriage does not come up for discussion. Nonetheless, the moral lawfulness of such conduct of husband and wife should be affirmed or denied according as their intention to observe constantly those periods is or is not based on sufficiently morally sure motives. The mere fact that husband and wife do not offend the nature of the act and are even ready to accept and bring up the child, who, notwithstanding their precautions, might be born, would not be itself sufficient to guarantee the rectitude of their intention and the unobjectionable morality of their motives.

    The reason is that marriage obliges the partners to a state of life, which even as it confers certain rights so it also imposes the accomplishment of a positive work concerning the state itself. In such a case, the general principle may be applied that a positive action may be omitted if grave motives, independent of the good will of those who are obliged to perform it, show that its performance is inopportune, or prove that it may not be claimed with equal right by the petitioner—in this case, mankind.

    The matrimonial contract, which confers on the married couple the right to satisfy the inclination of nature, constitutes them in a state of life, namely, the matrimonial state. Now, on married couples, who make use of the specific act of their state, nature and the Creator impose the function of providing for the preservation of mankind. This is the characteristic service which gives rise to the peculiar value of their state, the bonum prolis. The individual and society, the people and the State, the Church itself, depend for their existence, in the order established by God, on fruitful marriages. Therefore, to embrace the matrimonial state, to use continually the faculty proper to such a state and lawful only therein, and, at the same time, to avoid its primary duty without a grave reason, would be a sin against the very nature of married life.

    Serious motives, such as those which not rarely arise from medical, eugenic, economic and social so-called “indications,” may exempt husband and wife from the obligatory, positive debt for a long period or even for the entire period of matrimonial life. From this it follows that the observance of the natural sterile periods may be lawful, from the moral viewpoint: and it is lawful in the conditions mentioned. If, however, according to a reasonable and equitable judgment, there are no such grave reasons either personal or deriving from exterior circumstances, the will to avoid the fecundity of their union, while continuing to satisfy to tile full their sensuality, can only be the result of a false appreciation of life and of motives foreign to sound ethical principles. “

  123. Johannes,

    Serious motives, such as those which not rarely arise from medical, eugenic, economic and social so-called “indications,” may exempt husband and wife from the obligatory, positive debt for a long period or even for the entire period of matrimonial life.

    In light of your last post, I think we are actually in agreement on this issue. Consider the following statement I made in comment #116

    This does not mean that a couple might not postpone the birth of their first child for some period of time because of such considerations. But they must always be intentionally seeking the conditions necessary for procreation. Conceivably such a couple might inadvertently miss the opportunity altogether due to death or injury of a spouse, for instance. Yet in such a case the intention existed, thereby, mitigating or removing culpability.

    I admitted the possibility (though I think it an extreme one) that the couple, while intentionally seeking the proper conditions within which to procreate, find that the entire course of their married life is fraught with a continual train of “grave” conditions such that at no time did a proper application of the natural law justify the normative procreative decision. Hence, I can and do agree that the imperative to procreate (the primary “end” of marriage) can not be applied in an absolute manner ontologically (because of the possibility of an extreme case as just described). As you point out in your post, however, the magisterial documents hem in this sort of theoretical situation from almost every possible angle, so that such an extreme case would need to meet a very stringent set of criteria to be morally justifiable within the scope of the natural law.

    Accordingly, I would say that from the standpoint of “intentionality”, the application of the imperative that married couples procreate IS absolute: even if, it is possible to devise a “real-world” scenario where other factors deriving from natural law theory override that fundamental intention on the part of the couple. My point was to affirm the following positions:

    1.) Procreation is the “primary” end of marriage (bonum prolis). You seem to agree:

    Now, on married couples, who make use of the specific act of their state, nature and the Creator impose the function of providing for the preservation of mankind. This is the characteristic service which gives rise to the peculiar value of their state, the bonum prolis

    2.) Even when “grave” reasons exist such that postponement of procreation is justified under natural law, the means by which such postponement is accomplished is morally important (i.e NFP versus forced sterilization see my #90). You seem to agree:

    In this case they do not hinder or jeopardize in any way the consummation of the natural act and its ulterior natural consequences. It is exactly in this that the application of the theory, of which We are speaking, differs essentially from the abuse already mentioned, which consists in the perversion of the act itself

    3.) The INTENTION of the married couple must be to procreate, and this moral requirement of intentionality is “absolute” in the case of marriage qua marriage. You seem to agree:

    If, one of the parties contracted marriage with the intention of limiting the matrimonial right itself to the periods of sterility, and not only its use, in such a manner that during the other days the other party would not even have the right to ask for the debt, than this would imply an essential defect in the marriage consent, which would result in the marriage being invalid

    4.) Though there may be some potential scenario in which “grave” factors during the entire course of married life render fulfillment of the couple’s “intention to procreate” morally impracticable; such a case is far from normative AND the value of the human soul must always be understood as the superior consideration among all factors considered within the scope of the natural law. You seem to agree:

    If, however, according to a reasonable and equitable judgment, there are no such grave reasons either personal or deriving from exterior circumstances, the will to avoid the fecundity of their union, while continuing to satisfy to tile full their sensuality, can only be the result of a false appreciation of life and of motives foreign to sound ethical principles.

    I think we are on the same page here. Thank you for the discussion and helping to draw out the distinction between the absolute requirement of “intentionality” on the one hand and the potential that such intentionality might potentially (with grave qualifications) be morally “un-realizable” on the other.

    Pax et Bonum,

    -Ray

  124. Johannes,

    On a related note, it is normative (given a Catholic understanding of marriage) that a couple considering marriage would, in fact, give serious attention to their abilty (post-marriage) to bear and raise children. Thus, your scenario would involve, not only continual extreme economic and/or physical conditions, but a serious miscalculation on the part of the couple prior to their formal marital commitment. Mike said as much in # 114:

    Given the Catholic understanding of the nature of marriage, if two young people are so poor they can barely survive, they should not marry at all

    Pax et Bonum,

    -Ray

  125. Ray, just in case I want to make clear that the 4 blocks of text you quoted in #118 after preceding each quote with “You seem to agree:” are all from Pius XII’s address, so you should have preceded each quote with “Pius XII seems to agree:”. (Sure I do agree with Pius XII, but that’s not the point.)

    As a side note, at first I found the “eugenic” indication a bit shocking, but then I realized it was a parallel case with that of extreme poverty, assuming e.g. a man and a woman who love each other and know that each carries a recessive gene prone to cause a serious defect in their offspring.

  126. Please discard my previous comment #120 and replace it with this. Thank you.

    Ray, just in case I want to make clear that the 4 blocks of text you quoted in #118 after preceding each quote with “You seem to agree:” are all from Pius XII’s address, so you should have preceded each quote with “Pius XII seems to agree:”. (Sure I do agree with Pius XII, but that’s not the point.)

    Now two comments regarding your point “3.) The INTENTION of the married couple must be to procreate, and this moral requirement of intentionality is “absolute” in the case of marriage qua marriage.”

    1. We must distinguish between “in principle” intentionality (if conditions are appropriate) and practical intentionality (as conditions are and will likely be). The absolute moral requirement is only “in principle” intentionality to have children. I will illustrate this concept with the “eugenic” indication in Pius XII’s last quoted paragraph (which I see as a parallel case to that of extreme poverty, though even more extreme). Let’s consider a man and a woman who love each other and know that each carries a recessive gene prone to cause a very serious defect in his or her offspring. In this particular case the (correct) requisite to “always be intentionally seeking the conditions necessary for procreation” has no practical translation at all (in contrast with the case of the very poor couple I mentioned in #107 & #112, who could at least translate the requisite into practice by buying a lottery ticket once a year). Therefore their practical intentionality (as conditions are and will always be except for a miracle) is not to have children. Their “in principle” intentionality (if the Lord appeared to them and changed their DNA) is, and MUST absolutely be, to have children.

    2. The Pius XII’s text you quote has no direct relation with your point 3.). (BTW, the translation is incorrect if you check with the Italian text at vatican.va. It should be “If AT LEAST one of the parties contracted marriage with the intention of limiting the matrimonial right itself to the periods of sterility, and not only its use, …” from “Se già nella conclusione del matrimonio ALMENO uno dei coniugi avesse avuto l’intenzione di restringere ai tempi di sterilità lo stesso diritto matrimoniale, e non soltanto il suo uso, …”) What the quoted text says is that the intention at the time of getting married to restrict the matrimonial right itself to the periods of sterility renders the marriage itself invalid. But the reason for that has nothing to do with procreation, but with the fact that the matrimonial right is “permanent, uninterrupted and continuous “. Thus, the exact same statement would also apply to the intention at the time of getting married to restrict the matrimonial right itself to the periods of fertility!

    The key for the topic under discussion is in the next paragraph when the Pope says that “if the limitation of the act to the periods of natural sterility does not refer to the right itself but only to the use of the right, the validity of the marriage does not come up for discussion” and then goes on. Therefore, taking the two paragraphs together, the Pope says that, in the case of a couple who has, already at the celebration of marriage (“già nella conclusione del matrimonio”) the practical intention to limit the use of the matrimonial right (but not the right itself) to the periods of natural sterility:

    a. the marriage is indisputably valid, and

    b. the moral lawfulness of such conduct depends on whether their intention to observe constantly those periods is or is not based on sufficient and sure moral motives (correct translation from Italian “motivi morali sufficienti e sicuri”).

  127. Johannes,

    Ray, just in case I want to make clear that the 4 blocks of text you quoted in #118 after preceding each quote with “You seem to agree:” are all from Pius XII’s address, so you should have preceded each quote with “Pius XII seems to agree:”. (Sure I do agree with Pius XII, but that’s not the point.)

    I realized from the start that you were quoting Pius XII. However, in #117 you simply quoted both myself and Mike Liccione, and then said the following:

    although valid under “normal” conditions, cannot be made in an absolute way, is not any speculative consideration but an explicit magisterial teaching, namely the address of Pius XII . . .

    You then proceeded to directly quote Pius XII without further explanation. Thus, I was forced to assume that your decision to quote the late pontiff was the means you were using to support your point. This is why I said “you seem to agree”; namely, because you gave no explicit reference as to whether you did, or did not, agree with Pius XII’s teaching. You just began quoting him. Besides, since it was Pius XII whose words were directly quoted, if I had desired to speak of the pope’s own position, I would have simply said “Pius XII says . . . “. It is normative to assume that a person means or agrees with that which they say.

    We must distinguish between “in principle” intentionality (if conditions are appropriate) and practical intentionality (as conditions are and will likely be). The absolute moral requirement is only “in principle” intentionality to have children.

    I have no problem with this distinction. I said as much in #118 – there I said:

    Accordingly, I would say that from the standpoint of “intentionality”, the application of the imperative that married couples procreate IS absolute: even if, it is possible to devise a “real-world” scenario where other factors deriving from natural law theory override that fundamental intention on the part of the couple.

    The fact that a “real-world” scenario might exist which makes the intention to procreate non-realizable entails that there might be a legitimate obstacle to what you call “practical” intentionality. As the above quote indicates I agree that intentionality “in principle” is not always realizable in a practical way (given other grave conditions). The eugenic case is simply a specific “real-world” scenario (like extreme poverty) where other factors” (man and wife both carrying a recessive gene prone to cause a very serious defect) . . . . ” override that fundamental intention”. Accordingly, I have no objection to your differentiation between intentionality “in principle” and “practical” intentionality; nor with your insistence that the former is absolute, whereas the latter is not. Am I missing some part of your argument? I fail to see where we are in disagreement on this issue.

    BTW, the translation is incorrect if you check with the Italian text at vatican.va. It should be “If AT LEAST one of the parties . . .

    I simply copied your English translation of the text from #117. Although I cannot see how there is a significant difference between “If one of the parties . . “ and “If at least one of the parties . . .”.

    The Pius XII’s text you quote has no direct relation with your point . . . . reason for that has nothing to do with procreation, but with the fact that the matrimonial right is “permanent, uninterrupted and continuous “. Thus, the exact same statement would also apply to the intention at the time of getting married to restrict the matrimonial right itself to the periods of fertility!

    I never said it had a “direct” relation. While its primary reference may indeed by to the requirement that the right is “permanent, uninterrupted and continuous “; it might be asked why the Church requires that the marital right be intentionally offered by both couples in a “permanent, uninterrupted and continuous “ manner in the first place. Certainly part of that answer has to do with the fact that the marital act is the means by which procreation takes place and procreation is the primary “end” of marriage. I assume I need not quote a stream of magisterial statements to the affect that procreation is the primary “end” of marriage. The quote you provided from Pius XII in #117 suffices, which reads as follows:

    Now, on married couples, who make use of the specific act of their state, nature and the Creator impose the function of providing for the preservation of mankind. This is the characteristic service which gives rise to the peculiar value of their state, the bonum prolis

    Thus, my point 3, which was “The INTENTION of the married couple must be to procreate, and this moral requirement of intentionality is “absolute” in the case of marriage qua marriage.” remains as is. However, if you would like to insert the words “in principle” into this statement I have no objection since that was the “intent” :>) of my assertion. The new statement would read: “The “in principle” INTENTION of the married couple must be to procreate, and this moral requirement of intentionality is “absolute” in the case of marriage qua marriage.”

    The key for the topic under discussion is in the next paragraph when the Pope says that “if the limitation of the act to the periods of natural sterility does not refer to the right itself but only to the use of the right, the validity of the marriage does not come up for discussion” and then goes on. Therefore, taking the two paragraphs together, the Pope says that, in the case of a couple who has, already at the celebration of marriage (“già nella conclusione del matrimonio”) the practical intention to limit the use of the matrimonial right (but not the right itself) to the periods of natural sterility:

    a. the marriage is indisputably valid, and

    b. the moral lawfulness of such conduct depends on whether their intention to observe constantly those periods is or is not based on sufficient and sure moral motives (correct translation from Italian “motivi morali sufficienti e sicuri”).

    No objection here.

    The last several exchanges all deal with rather extreme, non-normative situations. My primary interest in this discussion has to do with the fact there needs be “grave” reasons for deciding not to actualize the “in principle” intention to procreate. More specifically, I maintain that any consideration of such “grave” reasons must be tempered by a proper valuation of the value and worth of the human soul in relation to temporal considerations of financial and physical difficulties. This is the point most often evaded due to human weakness – that is, attaching an inordinate weight to the problems of economic / physical difficulty as an excuse to avoid procreation. The fact that extreme circumstances (extreme poverty, eugenic problem) can arise in which the “in principle” intentionality toward child birth may be subordinated to grave considerations following upon the dictates of the natural law, highlights the fact that such cases are just that – extreme. The normative situation following upon the absolute “in principal” intention to procreate is that such intention will result in the “practical” intention to have children, which in turn, normatively results in the birth of 1 or more children.

    Pax et Bonum,

    -Ray

  128. Ray, I admit that my post #117 would have been clearer if after the two links I had said “Quoting from Pius XII’s address:” before starting to quote. I also admit that it might not have been clear to others whether I was in agreement with Pius XII. I just took for granted that it was clear. So I should have said “Quoting from Pius XII’s address (with which of course I agree):”

    I also apologize for my ignorance about how to quote a block of text in this response.

    You are not missing any part of my argument. We are in complete agreement.

    Regarding translation accuracy, the comment was just for your information, not because you had anything to do with the mistake. I admit that the comment phrasing lent itself to be interpreted as if pointing out a mistake by you. I also admit that I was in a very intolerant mood for translation errors because I had just noticed that in the Spanish translation at vatican.va they had omitted half a paragraph altogether.

  129. After reading all the above … in that case, it is against Nature to be able to have children, but not wanting to marry, so as not to have children … i.e., it that avoiding a Natural ‘duty’.

  130. Weist,

    It is against man’s nature as animal to avoid procreation (as no animal would ever do that naturally), but it would not be against man’s nature as a rational being if he were to avoid procreation for a higher purpose e.g. celibacy for the kingdom of God or some other grave reason which he perceived by use of his reason.

  131. Weist,

    Do you think Jesus Christ acted against his human nature?

  132. “The act that is supposed to reflect the life-giving union of Christ and the Church…”

    Could you please show me where this is stated in the Bible?

  133. Matthew,

    Welcome to Called to Communion. Not everything that is true is explicitly stated in the Bible. Plenty of beliefs that you and I hold are not stated in the Scriptures. For example, nowhere does the Bible say that the Bible alone is infallible yet Protestants believe this. Also, nowhere does it state that the Son is consubstantial with the Father, yet all orthodox Christians believe this.

    So just because the bible doesn’t state explicitly that we ought not to damage our procreative organs or their procreative function, it doesn’t mean that it’s ok to do that. The arguments for why it is not ok are above in the article and in some of the subsequent discussion. Do you have an objection to any of the arguments made?

  134. Hi Matthew,

    Ditto what Tim said. But if you’re asking specifically about the union of husband and wife in the marital act as a reflection of the union of Christ and the Church, Eph 5.31-32 might not be a bad place to start.

    in Christ,

    TC

  135. Tim,

    I disagree with your examples. John 10:35 tells us that the Scripture cannot be broken. There’s our proof that it’s infallible, letting God speak for Himself on that matter. And the Bible tells us that God and Jesus are of the same nature, though Jesus is functionally subordinate. Stephen prays to Jesus in Acts 7:59. It is not a sin to pray to Jesus because He always directs us to God. Both of these truths are contained within the Bible. Deuteronomy 25:11-12 might be our proof as to what God thinks of the damage of sexual organs. The Bible forbids cutting ourselves as the Gentiles did in Leviticus 19:28. But it’s not black and white. Exodus 21:5-6 describes a practice where a servant who wished to remain with his master had his ear pierced with an awl. One mutilation of the flesh does not make another evil. Context is key. I’m skeptical of the x, therefore y mindset on the issue of masturbation and contraception. If the Bible doesn’t tell us that something is sin, then I’m not relying on theology created by man to be my guide. For we do not know what sin is without the Law. Transgression of the Law is what is sin. That’s what the Bible tells us.

    I take exception to this:

    ” If you engage in the marital act when you are actively preventing the physical completion of the act, it is quite obvious to both people present what the goal of the act truly was. Physical gratification. This differs very little from a teenage boy alone with a porno mag.”

    I find this statement to be ignorant. It’s telling people who have parents that use contraception that when they have sex, they’re not engaging in a loving act. That thier mothers and fathers are only using each other. I cannot support this idea. I think that people who use contraception can still be brought closer to their spouses.

    Lastly, I guess I should introduce myself a little more. I might be the most different person on this web site in terms of my beliefs. I don’t hold a particular denomination, but if I had to describe myself, I guess I could say that I might be a combination of an Orthodox Jew, Protestant, and Seventh-Day Adventist. I am very against a lot of what the Catholic church teaches, but I occasionally like to check out some of what their views are to gain more perspective. And while I am very different from everybody here I think, I love everybody here at the same time. Love your neighbor, and even your enemies.

  136. Tim,

    I’m sorry, I missed how you meant that nowhere does it say in Scripture that it alone is infallible. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. We must die to sin and reborn in Christ. It is only through the guidance of the Holy Spirit of God that we are led to truth. Rationality, Scripture, and the conscience in every human is a start, but insufficient on its own. We need the Holy Spirit to guide us in our thoughts and interpretations. This has been made available to all who seek to live as Christ lived, thirsting for righteousness.

    Now, I do not wish to derail this discussion. But if you’ll indulge me, please read one of my reasons for why I don’t believe that the Catholic church has lived up to this standard. I have many reasons, but I wish to submit one. I don’t want this discussion to become one of Catholic apologetics going into a bunch of details why this and that do not disprove the belief that the pope is infallible. I won’t shy away from dealing with whatever vitriol comes my way for saying this. Though I expect that won’t be the case, and I’ll get a respectful answer as to why you either agree or disagree with what I am about to say. Without further ado, please read my reason.

    Before her death, Catherine of Siena allegedly had trances where she saw Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell. Along with this, she said that she received permission from God to bear the punishment for all of the sins of the world. 500 years later the Church accepted the teaching that Padre Pio’s sufferings for 50 years were also in payment for the sins in this world. Pio claimed that spirits of the dead visited him to thank him for paying for their sins, so they could be released from Purgatory and go to Heaven. It is clear from the Bible that Christ’s atoning sacrifice paid for our sins in full. Read 1 Peter 3:18 carefully and contrast what it says to the ideas that I have pointed out. These two “suffering saints” were never excommunicated for their blatant blasphemy. Instead, they are revered and prayed to by millions of Catholics and the pope.

    Now, this may seem like a major off-topic observation. But since I want to stress how I cannot in good conscience agree with all Catholic teachings, I wanted to point out something that struck me as something egregiously evil. I mentioned in my previous post that I loved everybody here. I believe there are people here who believe that they are living in the ways of Christ and that pope relays the teachings of Jesus infallibly. This isn’t an attack on anybody here, but an indicator of my shock over how anybody could believe that the pope is infallible when there are very easily recognizable examples of sin being carried out by him and the church. If I have said anything out of context, please correct me on this, as I would not want what I have said propagated in that case.

    Thank you for your consideration in responding to this matter.

  137. Matthew,

    Thanks for introducing yourself. We strive to be as irenic as possible here so thanks for returning the favor. Let me introduce myself as well. About four and a half years ago, I decided to leave my PCA upbringing to submit to the Catholic Church. Before conversion, I would have described myself in the same way you described yourself (i.e. that I do not profess to belong to a particular denomination, but have a number of various views that appeared to be correct to me through the Scriptures) I also thought that the Catholic Church taught some very un-Christian things. So I can definitely identify with what you’re saying – and I know it makes a lot of sense from your perspective.

    The examples you brought up are things similar to some of the stuff that bothered me to the point of knowing I could never ever submit to such false teaching. But what I found through research is that every single one of my objections were based on false premises of some sort. The examples you brought up are good points to illustrate this. If you’d like me to do so, I will. But before that I want your word that if I show you that those aren’t good reasons to not be Catholic that you’ll investigate some of your other reasons, maybe here or elsewhere or by private communication, and see if they are also insufficient reasons. If I cannot show you that those examples you gave are bad reasons to avoid the Church, then we needn’t bring up any other examples because if your reasoning is right, those two things alone would suffice. But there is something important missing, and I think I can explain what that is.

  138. Tim,

    Sure, post what you want to show me. How may I email you for additional conversation in private?

  139. As I was taught, it is immoral to take a natural instrument created by God and use it for unnatural purposes. If you were a watchmaker that created a watch, you would say that it is good if it tells the correct time. If it does not do what it was designed to do, you would say that it is bad. Just as God created everything good, they only remain good if we do not pervert their intended design and purpose. If procreation is consciously blocked, we are perverting what it natural and good. Procreation which should be done only within the sacramental confines of matrimony is reduced through contraception from being unitive, covenantal and life-giving, to that of a selfish and destructive act. It is a hallmark of the Culture of Death.

    The catechism explains one part of it pretty well. Especially about how contraception is contradictory to the unity of matrimony…

    CCC 2351 – Lust is disordered desire for, or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.
    CCC 2370 – … “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: 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…

    Other scripture i associate (rightly or wrongly) with contraception besides Onan..
    Gn 1:28, 9:1,7; 35:11 – The Lord God commands us to be fruitful and multiply.
    Lv 18:22-23; 20:13 – Wasting seed with disordered sexual acts brings the judgment of death.
    Deut. 23:1 – Whoever is castrated cannot enter the assembly. Contraception is contrary to moral and natural law.
    1 Cor. 7:5 – Married couples should not refuse each other unless they consent.
    Rom 1:26-27 – Sexual acts without the possibility of procreation is sinful.

    “Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted”… “To have coitus other than to procreate children is to do injury to nature.”
    St. Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor of Children (191 AD).

    “Women who were reputed to be believers began to take drugs to render themselves sterile, and to bind themselves tightly so as to expel what was being conceived, since they would not, on account of relatives and excess wealth, want to have a child by a slave or by any insignificant person. See, then, into what great impiety that lawless one has proceeded, by teaching adultery and murder at the same time!”
    St. Hippolytus of Rome, Refutation of All Heresies (~215 AD)

    “[Some] complain of the scantiness of their means, and allege that they have not enough for bringing up more children, as though, in truth, their means were in [their] power . . . or God did not daily make the rich poor and the poor rich. Wherefore, if any one on any account of poverty shall be unable to bring up children, it is better to abstain from relations with his wife.”
    Lactantius, Divine Institutes (307 AD).

  140. All – this conversation ran a good course but I wanted to point out something I came across this morning – a discussion on a Reformed blog on this topic found here. The answers given in support of artificial birth control are quite startling that come from the Calvinist participants and if you ask me quite sad yet indicative of the way modern culture has influenced modern Christianity.

  141. Very, very sad about Sam and Bethany Torode.. I almost bought “Open Embrace” for a protestant friend of mine who was getting married. Thanks for the Link to this post. I agree, it is very sad.

  142. Fr. Bryan.

    Agreed. I think ultimately, their view of NFP was not driven by a Catholic understanding of the teaching (and authority) as they were not Catholic. I can definitely see how NFP could be very hard for a couple merely for the ancillary benefits.

    What is sad to me in that conversation is that Christians who claim to proclaim God’s sovereignty and admit that he is the author of life will pop pills to prevent life and justify by saying, “I take aspirin when I get a headache – what’s the difference?”

    There is almost no appreciation for the gift of life and God’s design. There is also a very strong sense that our lives should be easy so taking pills to prevent children is ok since it makes life easier. Only as a Catholic did I truly understand the meaning of suffering and ‘offering it up.’

  143. There is an article posted today on Christianity Today ( her/maneutics) called “Why We Don’t Use Natural Planning.” It is also an iteresting read. Just for your info. However, it is also from a protestant poin of view.

  144. Sean and Nelson,

    I left this comment over at the other site with no response:

    Let me get this straight, the argument runs like this (A-Torodes, B-NFP, C-happy marriage):

    1. A says B will lead to C

    2. A renounces B

    3. A gets not C

    4. Which proves that B doesn’t lead to C???

    Anybody see an obvious problem in that? Am I missing something? Without #2, it works, but wouldn’t it be a more logical conclusion to claim that the cause of #3 is #2 which proves the opposite of #4?

  145. Nelson,

    Thanks. That article was linked on the Reformed blog I linked as well. In a somewhat related comment – thanks to all who participate at Called to Communion and make this a place where irenic dialog and charity flourish.

  146. Brent.

    Yeah, I don’t see much of an argument either. I was more just taken aback by the comments.

  147. Sean,

    There does seem to be quite the contrast in manner of dialogue between this and “other” sites.

  148. Brian O.

    Not painting with a broad brush but I know what you mean. Turn the other cheek and use it as a reminder to take the high road and so forth.

  149. Perhaps this is off topic, but I bet this is a great combox to ask this question!

    After just reading some Church Father quotes about contraception, I noticed some of them seem to focus on procreation being the only reason for marital relations. Clement of A., Lactantius, and Jerome particularly. Are they correct? And if so, how is “my friend” not sinning when he has relations with his pregnant wife? Of all times, that is the one time when he can be 100% sure she will not conceive. I mean, even as a very elderly woman, a miracle conception could happen. Or even a woman with a hysterectomy could miraculously conceive. But, a pregnant woman cannot even miraculously conceive. It aint possible. So relations at that time cannot have procreation as the goal or result. So is it wrong then?

    So would the relations in the case of a pregnant wife be of the baser sort these 3 fathers mention? Is it true as Clement of Alexandria says that “To have coitus other than to procreate children is to do injury to nature”? And if true, does that apply to a pregnant wife? I must say, I don’t see any way around the conclusion.

  150. David.

    My understanding is that sex without the possibility of procreation is the problem. Did the fathers you’ve read say that sex cannot be pleasurably?

    I am not sure how the fathers viewed sex between a man and his pregnant wife. It certainly is not anti-life. Good question.

  151. Good thing for us, gents, we have an authoritative Magisterium and not just rationally assailable quotes from the Bible and Church fathers. Since the Magisterium has an intellect which can be aided by the gift of the Holy Spirit, she can bring to bear the development of human understanding on Her understanding of faith and morals. Truth is truth, and so the Holy Spirit guides the Church into a fuller and more profound understanding of human sexuality as time goes on–not in a hermeneutic of discontinuity or rupture, but in a development that presupposes what comes before and builds upon its ever increasing openness to truth that can comport with the Sacred Tradition and Scripture she inherited, but that is not captive to that which in the Tradition is incomplete.

    I think, David, that the notion that the seed was “living” had a lot to do with the quotes in question. Once the Church realized that this view was not true, she was able to reflect more fully on the nature of the marital embrace. Nevertheless, I think it is important to note that a couple should never go into the act with the intention, even during what we suppose is an infertile phase, of resisting the fecundity of the act. NFP is about listening to God through nature, particularly our bodies. Even so, our ability to “hear” can be diminished, and we must know that the Holy Spirit can do what he may given the possibilities of the act. Thus, a couple should always embrace the possibility of life–reminding themselves that they are not the cause of it–even when they believe they are listening to God in order to space children. It is analogous to anything in which we try to hear God through our circumstances, and yet we still must always be open to his sovereign plan.

    You bring up exceptions, where God has definitively in nature precluded the possibility of conception. In those cases, it would still be wrong for the couple to engage in the marital act for the purpose of mere personal gratification. However, as St. Paul instructs in 1 Cor 7:5: “Do not deprive each other, except perhaps by mutual consent for a time, to be free for prayer, but then return to one another, so that Satan may not tempt you through your lack of self-control.” Thus, the unitive component of marriage binds the couple together, and particularly when times of temptation are strong.

    In my experience, Satan brings his “A” game during pregnancy. He hates it when God does a miracle (a new child), and he hates the family, so what better time than to attack a man. The marital act in these times is not meant to procreate, not because it resists it, but because the nature of the circumstances implies that it has already accomplished that end. Nonetheless, the act can be unitive (and affirming of the procreative), and a weapon of God against the temptation of the devil. In this way, both in chastity and in the act, marriage is a Sacrament of God’s grace that leads us on the narrow road to heaven.

  152. The Catholic position on sexual relations inside of marriage is that it is a positive good, eg, the two become one. The Catholic position on contraceptives / abortion / infanticide is that those are positive evils because they deny God the right to bring forth fruit in a marriage.

    My wife and I used NFP. We used it to determine when we could have children because we wanted children, seeing them as a positive good. We had children and we have no regrets on those arrivals.

    Cordially,
    dt

  153. David,

    As you know, not everything that a father or “the fathers” wrote has been adopted by the Magesterium of the Church – and this includes such eminent fathers as the 3 A’s (Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas)! The position that you are noting in *some* of the writings of *some* of the fathers might aptly be called “sola procreation”, in relation to the “ends” (telos) of marital intercourse. However, the Magesterium has never embraced such a “sola” position; and in fact has noted *two* ends of marital union: the procreative AND the unitive – namely that the sexual act is *also* the physical expression/renewal of the sacrament of marriage – the mutual self-giving by which the two express themselves as “one flesh”. JPII discussed this many times in many ways. Following are just a few examples of teaching concerning the unitive end of sexual intercourse:

    “The spouses’ union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple’s spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family.The conjugal love of man and woman thus stands under the twofold obligation of fidelity and fecundity.” Catechism, 2363

    “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.” Catechism, 2369

    “God who created man out of love also calls him to love the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being. Since God created him man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man. It is good, very good, in the Creator’s eyes.” Catechism, 1604

    “Conjugal love… aims at a deeply personal unity, a unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul; it demands indissolubility and faithfulness in definitive mutual giving; and it is open to fertility. In a word it is a question of the normal characteristics of all natural conjugal love…which not only purifies and strengthens them, but raises them to the extent of making them the expression of specifically Christian values.” Catechism, 1643

    “Through sexual union, couples strengthen their marital relationship and participate in a special way in God’s creation of new life… Sexuality, then, is not merely a matter of biology, nor is it simply a source of personal pleasure. Rather, it concerns, as Pope John Paul II reminds us, in the Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, ‘the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and woman commit themselves totally to one another until death’ (FC 11). Spouses are called to celebrate their conjugal love by becoming one flesh in the Lord, and to see their sexual intimacy in the context of God’s creative role and the nature of marriage itself.” USCCB on the 25th anniversary of Humane Vitae

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  154. Brent,

    ESP? :>)

  155. Thanks guys! very helpful.
    Brent,
    Scary and encouraging.

    First the scary:

    …exceptions, where God has definitively in nature precluded the possibility of conception. In those cases, it would still be wrong for the couple to engage in the marital act for the purpose of mere personal gratification.

    That frightens me. My wife is usually pregnant, so this will require more frequently examining my intentions. Well, that is probably good for me, the spiritual warfare will bring me out of my selfishness and closer to Christ. Catholicism is intense! (and quite manly if I do say so)

    The encouraging:

    Nonetheless, the act can be unitive (and affirming of the procreative), and a weapon of God against the temptation of the devil. In this way, both in chastity and in the act, marriage is a Sacrament of God’s grace that leads us on the narrow road to heaven.

    Beautiful.

    Ray S.
    Tank you sir. The quotes are helpful. Seeing things in terms of sacrament/covenant renewal resonates with me and puts things in perspective.

    Here is where I am at:
    I don’t want to be legalistic, and say relations with a pregnant spouse is by definition wrong because conception is impossible, but yet I don’t want to fall into the trap of laxity and presumption and not see the spiritual battle that is more likely in the situation. Pregnancy should make one more cautious of their intentions and aware of the beauty of renewing the marriage sacrament. Potentially, there is an added blessing because this situation can force one to be more aware of the true nature of this sacrament! Because one of the aspects (procreation) is removed as a possible result, it forces one to focus on the more ‘spiritual’ aspects of the sacrament which relate to the union of husband and wife, of which procreation is a result, but which are in their own right worth celebrating.

    Sound like a good train of thought guys?

    Now if I can just remember to live it and not just say it.

    Thanks a lot for the help. Bless you.

    -David M.

  156. Hi David,

    Augustine also wrote, in what may have been a maturation of his viewpoint over time, the following: we must “distinguish the concupiscence associated with marriage, i.e. the concupiscence of conjugal purity,
    concupiscence for the legitimate engendering of children, or the concupiscence of the social bond by which each sex is tied to the other, from the concupiscence of the flesh which hankers after the illicit as well as the licit indifferently and through the concupiscence of marriage which uses it well is restrained from the illicit and permitted only the licit.”

    This indicates a role for the unitive aspect of married sexuality as inherently important and good and distinct from lust per se. He doesn’t indicate in this sentence that the concupiscence of the social bond is at all inferior to the concupiscence for the legitimate engendering of children. On the contrary, the social bond aspect of sex is listed as a direct good along with the procreative aspect, while the lustful aspects of sex are not good themselves but are merely constrained from being too bad by marriage. (Note also that concupiscence doesn’t always mean something bad in this passage, but this just means that he is being loose with language by our modern standard).

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  157. David – Good comments on the other blog. It’s my experience that many who try to engage over there end up bowing out simply because of the color of the conversation and manner in which people are treated. Of course, this elicits claims of victory by the purveyors of the blog. It takes a loving heart to stick it out with charity while keeping a level head. The fact is, they need truth too. God bless.

  158. donald todd: The Catholic position on sexual relations inside of marriage is that it is a positive good, eg, the two become one. The Catholic position on contraceptives / abortion / infanticide is that those are positive evils because they deny God the right to bring forth fruit in a marriage.

    Well said! Catholics confess in the Nicene Creed that they believe that the Holy Spirit is “the Lord and Giver of Life”. Contraceptives, abortion, and infanticide all make a mockery of that confession. The contracepting couple is denying the Holy Spirit his Lordship as the Giver of Life. Instead, the contracepting couple are making themselves the Lord and Giver of Life.

    You said in your heart, `I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to Sheol, to the depths of the Pit. Isaiah 14: 13-15

    Ray Stamper: … the Magesterium has never embraced such a “sola” position; and in fact has noted *two* ends of marital union: the procreative AND the unitive – namely that the sexual act is *also* the physical expression/renewal of the sacrament of marriage – the mutual self-giving by which the two express themselves as “one flesh”. JPII discussed this many times in many ways. Following are just a few examples of teaching concerning the unitive end of sexual intercourse …

    To add to Ray’s quotes, I would note that Pope John Paul II’s weekly addresses on his Theology of the Body has been collected into one book:

    Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology Of The Body, by Pope John Paul II

    From the Amazon.com review: … this book is a compilation of many weekly addresses the Pope gave in the early 80’s. Now compiled into this one work, we can view the absolute genius of the mind of Pope JPII. His insights into humanity, creation, the human person and the body are without equal. In fact, he may be known for this work more than any other when history judges him in the future. He has given the Church new insights into the dignity of the human person, marriage .. The Theology of the Body has already started several grass-roots evangelism projects and my guess is that we are only starting to see the fruit this book will bear.

    Two of those grass-roots evangelism projects:

    theologyofthebody.net

    Christopher West’s website

    David Meyer: … how is “my friend” not sinning when he has relations with his pregnant wife?

    Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humane Vitea explicitly addressed that situation (sexual union during times when that union is foreseen to be infertile):

    The sexual activity, in which husband and wife are intimately and chastely united with one another, through which human life is transmitted, is, as the recent Council recalled, “noble and worthy.” It does not, moreover, cease to be legitimate even when, for reasons independent of their will, it is foreseen to be infertile. For its natural adaptation to the expression and strengthening of the union of husband and wife is not thereby suppressed …

  159. Sean,
    Thanks, and I agree, the color of conversation can be like modern art sometimes. I think I comment on blogs like that to refine my own thinking more than anything.

  160. Mark Driscoll, one of the leading icons of “The New Calvinism,” is publishing a book next month in which he endorses anal sex (sodomy) within marriage. (See here.) In comment #83 above, I briefly laid out the underlying error. Reformed leaders and thinkers such as Leithart and Mathison claim to avoid “solo scriptura” (or biblicism), saying that they too recognize the authority of Tradition but merely hold Scripture to have final authority. (See here and here.) However, so many examples from Reformed leaders, including this one from Driscoll, show that when Tradition is a grab-bag from which one picks and chooses according to one’s own interpretation of Scripture, the result is still essentially biblicism.

    In the entirety of Christendom for 2,000 years, anal sex (in any context) has been recognized by all Christians as gravely sinful, contrary to nature, and thus perverted and degrading. There could be no greater evidence that this belief is part of the Christian Tradition. Yet because Driscoll cannot find any prohibition in the Bible against anal sex within marriage, he concludes and teaches that anal sex within marriage is biblical and acceptable for Christians. This is just one example, among many, showing that the Bible was never intended to be a complete rule of faith and morals, and that Reformed theology (and Protestant theology in general) does not have a principled way of allowing Tradition to be authoritative, even when it claims to reject biblicism.

    What makes the sexual act self-giving, and therefore an act of mutual love uniting two persons, rather than an act of selfishness, lust or use of another person for one’s own gratification, is the mutual free participation in an act inherently open to the gift of life and pursued as such, with the requisite mutual commitment to each other and to the nurture and education of the offspring that may result from the act. Because anal intercourse is a sexual act not inherently open to the gift of life, it is intrinsically selfish and intrinsically disordered. By teaching that sexual acts of this sort are permissible, Driscoll is teaching that sex-as-mutual-use is fine, so long as it is done within the context of a marital commitment. But sex-as-mutual-use is not fine, because it divorces sex from love, and reduces sex to a means by which persons instrumentalize each other in the pursuit of their own gratification. (See Love and Responsibility.) It reduces sexual union from that of mutual self-giving in the shared pursuit of a greater good, to what Aristotle calls ‘friendship of pleasure’ according to which persons are brought together extrinsically only by the pleasure each finds in the other, while each remains oriented fundamentally in selfishness toward his own self-gratification. For this reason, ‘friendship of pleasure’ is not true friendship. And that is why sex-as-mutual-use is contrary to marriage, which is to be a true friendship of virtue and genuine love.

    To endorse anal sex within marriage is to reject a significant portion of natural law. I don’t wish to be crude, but it is important to show the implications of Driscoll’s position. If anal sex with one’s wife is permissible so long as she approves, and sex with sex toys or sex dolls is permissible so long as one’s wife approves, then so is anal or oral sex with a third person (male or female) or animal, so long as one’s wife approves. If there is no such thing as sexual perversion so long as there is mutual consent between husband and wife, and the ‘authoritative’ Tradition is something we get to pick and choose from according to our own interpretation of Scripture, then consent of all parties involved is the only limiting condition with respect to the morality of sex acts performed by or to the husband or wife. And this notion is precisely what empowers the homosexual marriage argument, according to which teleology and natural law are dismissed, and mutual consent is the only moral necessity in sexual expression. In this way Reformed Christians like Driscoll are contributing to the destruction of traditional marriage by advocating a conception of sexuality divorced from Tradition, from natural law, and even from love. The question is whether the New Calvinists will realize this and return to the Catholic Tradition, or will continue down the path of separating themselves further from the Tradition.

    Given biblicism, the answer to the question “What is the biblical teaching on sex?” is “Whatever you want it to be.” Driscoll on sex is biblicism exemplified. Tradition and natural law have no authority. The problem is not Driscoll’s (or Protestantism’s) high view of Scripture; the problem is his (and its) low view of Tradition. Scripture functions as a true authority only with the two other legs of this three-legged stool: Tradition and Magisterium. Moreover, Driscoll’s view of sex is ontologically vacuous. Driscoll sees sex in terms of rules, rather than in terms of virtues and goods. So the absence of biblical prohibitions of sexual acts, x, y, and z is, for Driscoll, the green light for sexual acts x, y, and z. The whole larger moral and personal context of the virtue of chastity, the context in which the biblical rules are given, and on which they are based and the goods they are meant to protect, is absent. Driscoll’s voluntaristic rule-based way of thinking about sex is possible only in the post-Aristotelian moral landscape of modernity (described by MacIntyre in the opening chapter of After Virtue), a teleological vacuum that biblicism cannot fill. Driscoll’s endorsement of the perversion of sodomy should be biblicism’s reductio ad absurdum. But for those not guided by the light of Tradition, Driscoll is a prophet discovering in the Bible (for the first time in Church history) God’s biblical stamp of approval on perverted acts contrary to the natural law, acts motivated by lust, not love.

  161. Bryan,

    In this way Reformed Christians like Driscoll are contributing to the destruction of traditional marriage by advocating a conception of sexuality divorced from Tradition, from natural law, and even from love.

    Bingo, Bryan. I see this so unbelievably clearly and have the most difficult time explaining it to acquaintances who attend Mars Hill Church, where Mark Driscoll is Pastor (I serve in the Seattle area). They just don’t get that if we permit anal sex in a heterosexual relationship and at the same time condemn it in a homosexual context, we transform God’s commandments into arbitrary precepts (as opposed to nudges towards a more authentically human existence). The complementarity of man and woman is a staple of Driscoll’s theology, and I just don’t understand how he can permit a practice that so clearly denies our complementarity. Driscoll says repeatedly that the purpose of sex is unity. Why is he so blind to see that sodomy is not unitive at all?

    I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.

    (Here is Mars Hill’s official take on the subject: http://blog.marshill.com/2008/11/30/question-21-can-i-perform-anal-sex-on-my-wife/ )

  162. Bryan (not Fr.) said: “The question is whether the New Calvinists will realize this and return to the Catholic Tradition, or will continue down the path of separating themselves further from the Tradition.”

    A few years ago when I was a newly married man, Doug Wilson’s book Fidelity convinced me of the wrongness of the act mentioned by Bryan above (I feel sick even typing it). Wilson also denounced abortofacient contraceptives in that book. For that, I thank him, it is a step in the right direction, and it is something I never heard mentioned ONCE from any other conservative Reformed source. Of course even non abortofacient contraception leaves the door open to grave sin, and being non-unitive I now think in essence is the same as sodomy. I think Wilson managed to find some sort of biblical backing for his anti-wife sodomy position, can’t recall. But it goes to show how dangerous sola Scriptura is. Under its rule, men end up ignoring Tradition and following the winds of doctrine of men like Wilson and Driscoll.

    How this evil could even be considered by Driscoll is beyond me. And to teach others to do it also… Lord have mercy.
    The damage he will cause his followers and the “same sex marriage” debate is certain to be huge.

  163. Mark Dricoll is a brand, and brands (like children) demand lots of attention. Trust me, if his position on sodomy weren’t generating buzz–negative and positive–he wouldn’t bother promoting it.

    Mars Hill is a scourge, especially for people who minister in the Seattle area.

  164. Jason — Couldn’t agree more. It must be infuriating for you all that he’s taken the Reformed mantle, seeing as he’s about as Reformed as Joel Osteen.

  165. David (#162),

    You wrote:

    I think Wilson managed to find some sort of biblical backing for his anti-wife sodomy position, cant recall. [emphasis added]

    But I think you meant to write:

    I think Driscoll managed to find some sort of biblical backing for his anti-wife sodomy position, cant recall.

    Right?

    In the grace of Christ,

    Chad

  166. Chad,
    What I meant to say was that Doug Wilson specifically denounced that practice (sodomy with ones wife), and that I think he had some decent biblical backing. (the book is on my shelf and I could look if anyone is interested)
    So not only is Driscoll wrong in promoting evil, I dont think he can legitimately say that the bible does not talk about the practice. Of course under the reign of King sola(o) Scriptura, he can always claim to not “see” the scriptural evidence, but nevertheless, we are not talking about in vitro fertilization or embryo stem cell research here, where perhaps the text seems more silent.

  167. Thanks David (#166), that clears it up. If I explain that the hyphen in your sentence should have gone between ‘wife’ and ‘sodomy’, you’ll see how and why I mistook you. But we’re in agreement on the substance of your point.

    BTW: We have a mutual acquaintance in Josh Moon. He was an erstwhile colleague and a close friend at the University of Gloucestershire where we had the same doctoral supervisor for a year.

    May you and your family enjoy a blessed Christmas!

    In the grace of Christ,

    Chad

  168. A few weeks ago, in response to observing a consensus decision at a conference of young Evangelicals in Washington D.C. to promote the use of contraceptives among singles, Matt Anderson (an Evangelical) wrote an article in Christianity Today in which he argued that Evangelicals should not advocate the use of contraceptives by singles. He followed up his article with a post titled “A Hill to Die On: Evangelicals, Contraception, and the Integrity of our Witness.” Both are excellent evaluations by an Evangelical of the mentality underlying the use of contraceptives, and implicitly reveal why the Protestant approval of the use of contraceptives within marriage is now bleeding over to pushing their use among singles. The Q conference may very well indicate where Evangelicalism is headed.

    But secular morality may also be shifting.

    In the Fall of 2008, I taught a class on the philosophy of human nature. One of the books I had my students read toward the end of the semester was Karol Wojtyla’s [Pope John Paul II] Love & Responsibility, which develops the relation between what we are as humans, and what it means to love another person, and what this implies with respect to our sexuality and the sexual act. After the students had completed the book, and we had discussed it in class, I had them read a brief Reuters article titled “Japan’s Lonely Hearts” about a man [going by the pseudonym Ta-Bo] who prefers sex dolls to women. (The accompanying news video is here.) I had my students identify the moral error here, and explain why this is unethical. After having read Love & Responsibility, they had no difficulty with the assignment.

    But sex doll technology is continually ‘improving,’ and the sex doll industry is taking off. Last year, one company sold 50,000 units. And recently the topic has been back in the news, as two researchers at the Victoria Management School in New Zealand claim that sex robots will revolutionize sex tourism in positive ways by reducing both sex slavery and sexually transmitted diseases.

    The question of sex dolls is a topic Christians will need to face shortly, if not already. Christians need to know not only that this is wrong, but especially why this is wrong. The Bible, however, does not address this question. Jesus teaches that lust is a sin (Mt. 5:28), but sex dolls are not mentioned in the Bible. And for many Christians who do not recognize the authority of Tradition, the silence of the Bible on an act is, in essence, God’s way of saying that the act is morally permissible.

    Leading Reformed pastor and author Mark Driscoll uses this reasoning to teach, for example, that the silence of the Bible regarding masturbation is evidence that masturbation is not a sin. At 2′ 35″ in his video on the subject he says, “Masturbation is not a sin. … Masturbation is not a sin because the Bible does not say that masturbation is a sin.” He adds “And it is not something new.” That last qualifier seemingly leaves Mark with no moral guidance in cases where the act in question is something new.

    Mark uses the same reasoning to claim that sex toys are morally permissible.

    Masturbation: The Bible does not forbid it, so it’s lawful. But whether it’s helpful “is a very difficult and complex question.”

    Oral sex: Lawful. “The Biblical book Song of Songs speaks of oral sex in a positive and poetic fashion,” Driscoll wrote.

    Sex toys? “I read the whole Bible,” Mark Driscoll said. “They’re not in there.”

    So go for it, but if you’re using one on your own and not “in oneness” with your partner, then you’ve got a problem. (source)

    According to Mark, because the Bible does not forbid masturbation (including solitary masturbation), therefore it is lawful. Similarly, because sex toys are not prohibited in the Bible, therefore, they are lawful. Then Mark adds a qualifying prohibition, that sex toys cannot be used by oneself. But that prohibition is not in the Bible, so it is refuted by Mark’s own previous reasoning. Moreover, if what is not prohibited by the Bible is lawful, and solitary masturbation is not prohibited by the Bible, then it would be ad hoc to stipulate that the solitary use of sex toys is prohibited, especially given that they are not even mentioned in Scripture.

    The result? Mark’s sola scriptura (or ‘solo scriptura’ if you like) principle according to which if an act type is not prohibited in the Bible, then Christians are free to do it, undermines any principled basis [within that paradigm] for determining that the use of sex dolls is immoral, because a sex doll is in essence a glorified sex toy. Of course a sex doll would be much more likely to be used as a substitute for a human partner. But Mark’s reasoning regarding masturbation and the use of sex toys legitimizes for singles the use of sex dolls as an ‘outlet,’ and the use of sex dolls by married persons as an ‘outlet,’ so long as this doesn’t replace sex with one’s spouse. And when a nationally known Reformed pastor’s reasoning leads to this conclusion, and the Reformed tradition does not possess the means to refute his reasoning, it ought to raise a theological red flag.

    I said in #160 above that Driscoll’s endorsement of the perversion of sodomy [within marriage] should be biblicism’s reductio ad absurdum. Here too, the incapability of Driscoll’s position to provide a principled reason for the immorality of the use of sex dolls (and not merely an ad hoc stipulation) ought to be biblicism’s modus tollens. If biblicism is not only incapable of providing moral guidance in such matters, but even leads to conclusions contrary to what we know by conscience, then the deformation of conscience by way of arguments from Scripture’s silence, and the undermining of the Tradition’s authority, entailed by sola scriptura‘s pick-and-choose approach to Tradition on the basis of its conformity (or lack thereof) to one’s own interpretation of Scripture, call into question the sola scriptura paradigm itself. Scripture functions rightly only in the context of an authoritative Tradition, and the determination and delineation of the content of that Tradition is possible only in the context of an authoritative Magisterium.

  169. Interesting developments. It looks like evangelicals are a few decades behind society as a whole but following the same path.

    1. Accept contraception in marriage

    2. Unmarried people don’t see why they have to wait for sex because there are no children involved anyway.

    3. Premarital sex slowly becomes more common and happens in relationships that are further and further from marriage.

    4. Abortion increases because contraception does not always work

    5. Contraception is promoted among singles as a lesser evil than abortion. (BTW, the evidence shows promoting contraception does not reduce the number of abortions so that logic fails even as a practical matter)

    The good news is some evangelicals are seeing the problem. Not sure how many are willing to say (1) was the mistake. But they do see a problem.

    I am not sure the sex doll thing will be such a big revolution. The technology of the pornography industry has been advancing for decades. This will be one more step but will it be bigger than home video or the internet?

    Once we see sex as intended for pleasure rather than intended for procreation then we are in trouble. Any woman can give us pleasure but when it comes to procreation not just any woman will do. We can immediately see the need for marriage and faithfulness.

  170. Dear Bryan,

    How terribly sad to read what is happening to moral teaching in comment # 168. I want to encourage protestants everywhere to step above and beyond the sinfully low bar set by pastors such as Mark Driscoll. Chastity is beautiful. It is joyful. It is a path to integrity, peace, life, and love. Take the lust out of your heart, whether its lust for an image, or an object, or a person whom you are treating like an object. Take out the lust, and then there is room for God.

    Here is a challenge to protestant readers of CTC: even if you believe that all of that stuff which I can’t bring myself to mention is not sinful, there is nothing wrong with trying to hold yourself to a higher standard for a while and seeing what happens. Why not try today? Try to turn all lustful thoughts away, and fill your mind and heart with pure and beautiful things. When you’re having trouble, ask for God’s help. Try. Once you see what it is like to receive God’s grace for chastity, you will never want to go back.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  171. Sarah Nelson’s discovery in “I thought I was pro-life but God told me I had the ‘spirit of abortion’” is precisely what Archbishop Burke (now Cardinal Burke) was referring to regarding the intrinsic relation between contraception and abortion.

    Also, Janet Smith’s “Contraception” Why not?” is a helpful lecture:

    Here’s the text of the article by the same title: “Contraception: Why Not? (revised)” See also her “The Connection Between Contraception and Abortion.”

    Update: I also recommend Bishop Conley’s article Language of Love, in which he shows how contraception, by denying the sacrificial element of the sexual act, distorts the sexual act into something unloving.

  172. Bryan,

    Such a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing. I think the story also reminds us that Christian unity is priority #1 for God, and that His still small voice is much more effective than our clamoring key strokes (at times).

    Ut unum sint! Veni, Sancte Spiritus!

  173. Great link Bryan. It goes along with something that has bothered me for quite a while, which is NFP being advertised with a ‘contraceptive mentality’. So many times I hear of NFP from Catholic sources and it is simply described as what Catholics do instead of contraceptives. Of course this is not what the Church teaches, but I think the message gets mixed and confused when it is not clearly and directly stated that couples need a good reason to use NFP, and precisely what those reasons are. And I think this false advertising could lead couples to have a ‘spirit of abortion’ even though they are quite against it.

  174. David re:#173

    …NFP being advertised with a ‘contraceptive mentality’. So many times I hear of NFP from Catholic sources and it is simply described as what Catholics do instead of contraceptives.

    I agree with you that far too often Catholic introductions and explanations of NFP are unsophisticated and take contraception as the starting point and pregnancy avoidance becomes the main focus. However, I’d like to offer a few thoughts.

    First we don’t really have any NFP advertising. Other than an announcement in the Bulletin or a small announcement in the diocesan paper, I don’t think I’ve ever seen or heard an NFP advertisement. We certainly have never had a slick Madison Ave developed advertising campaign. I know I’m quibbling a bit but the contraception companies DO have advertising campaigns and Planned Parenthood DOES engage PR firms and advertising firms. Meanwhile between 80% and 90% of everything you hear or read about NFP is being produced by an untrained lay person who is neither a theologian or an advertising copy writer. Half of the remainder is probably written by people with a bit more theological education or more medical training but still no background in advertising and media communications. I would sincerely ask that we have generous hearts regarding the statements most people make about NFP. Much of the time what they actually believe and even teach others privately is very likely not well reflected in the statements we are getting.

    Second point is that it is very difficult to begin a conversation about NFP free from the context of contraception. Most often when the topic comes up the discussion is framed from the beginning in terms of contraception and the NFP point of view is already at least 1 foot in the whole and it is an exercise in Apologetics and not a blank slate open opportunity to communicate the actual beauty and functionality of NFP. The whole culture is so thoroughly steeped in contraception that it is virtually impossible to talk about NFP from what should be the basic starting point – fertility is good, sex is good, babies are good and NFP is knowledge about a woman’s cycle that is useful for many purposes including achieving pregnancy and when appropriate making the choice for marital abstinence during the fertile period.

    I admit myself to often being discouraged about how NFP is communicated both informally in com boxes and casual conversation and in NFP websites and even some NFP materials. I have to remember that even many NFP advocacy organizations are run on next to nothing in $$$ comparatively and are run by passionate and sincere people who are simply doing the best they can.

    Have you looked at the Creighton NFP materials and websites? In my opinion they are the most professional and have done the best job of presenting NFP properly – not coincidentally they have also probably invested the most heavily in good writing and editing, and they have a very rigorous training and follow up supervision program for their teachers.
    Pope Paul the VI Institute
    Napro Technology
    Creighton Model Fertility Care System

    Also, here is a newer website from a local organization for me. Natural Family Planning – Northwest Family Services that I agree with you doesn’t do as good of a job of putting NFP out as something other than an alternative to contraception that I would like. Essentially the first paragraph is rooted in the mentality of people that are investigating NFP to AVOID pregnancy. However, I am sure the site developer was looking to answer the questions they believe most people will have as quickly as possible. I think people have sincere reasons for presenting this way, but I agree with you that we need to find something better. I like the Creighton re-phrasing – calling Napro Technology a “Fertility Care System” instead of NFP. Maybe we just need to ditch NFP entirely? The NWFS page never discusses that babies and pregnancy are good. I know some of the people who use their services and they DON”T have a contraceptive mentality, but the web page is written 85% from the viewpoint of talking to people that want to avoid pregnancy. Again, I hazard the guess that they think they are “meeting people where they are at.”

  175. GNW_Paul,

    Thanks for the info and the good points. I think you are right about the layman factor and the shoe-string budgets and such. I agree that the term “family planning” in NFP is really unfortunate. It immediately gives the impression that NFP is all about not getting pregnant, which lets face it, is how it is used most of the time (i dont have stats, but I would bet the farm on it).
    I just think that NFP is so easy to be misused. Like sex itself, it can be used properly, but can easily become the ruin of people when misused. Same act, two very different results. Likewise NFP is one method, but can be horribly misused. I have never heard strong enough language when it is discussed on Catholic radio or online. It is so easily abused, that I strongly believe that every single time it is mentioned, it needs to be mentioned in fourth place after “children are a blessing” and “Catholics may only limit their family size in extreme situations, for defined reasons, and large families should still be the norm” THEN I think NFP can be mentioned as first an aid to fertillity, and finally mentioned as a last resort for people with clinical depression or some other serious but valid reason for not wanting children.
    As you said, the pull of our culture seems to put any talk about NFP immediately in the context of a “contraceptive mentality”. So I think that gives us all the more reason to not give an inch here by refusing to talk about it in terms of avoiding pregnancy unless that discussion takes place at the END of the conversation I mention above, where it is more than clear that avoiding pregnancy is not to be the norm and is to be a rare and special circumstance. As a father of 5 little ones, I can say that we young families need all the encouragement we can get in this area. It is just so easy to go with the cultural flow and begin to see our kids as a burden and then close ourselves off to new life.

  176. In a June 5 article titled “Can Christians Use Birth Control?” Al Mohler (president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) says a number of things that indicate greater awareness of common ground with the Catholic Church on this subject, and a greater appreciation of the merit of the Catholic teaching on this subject. Mohler encourages evangelicals to reconsider the issue of birth control, and to reexamine Humane Vitae. Nevertheless, he ends up disagreeing with the Church’s teaching in Humanae Vitae, so here’s a quick examination of his reasoning where he disagrees with the Catholic Church on this issue. He writes:

    For most evangelicals, the major break with Catholic teaching comes at the insistence that “it is necessary that each conjugal act remain ordained in itself to the procreating of human life.” That is, that every act of marital intercourse must be fully and equally open to the gift of children. This claims too much, and places inordinate importance on individual acts of sexual intercourse, rather than the larger integrity of the conjugal bond.

    What Mohler needs to provide here, but does not provide, is the standard by which he is judging the Catholic teaching to be “too much” and “inordinate.” Those terms presuppose some standard for “the right amount” and “ordinate.” Where, exactly, does the Bible allow separating the two purposes of the marital act? Where, exactly, does the Bible specify the degree of importance proper to “individual acts of sexual intercourse” in relation to the larger integrity of the conjugal bond? Or is Mohler inferring from the absence of an explicit statement on this question in the Bible, to the conclusion that the Catholic teaching is “too much” and “inordinate”? If his answer is that the Bible does not address these questions, then Mohler needs to show how the natural law allows for separating the two purposes in the conjugal act, since in the article he acknowledges the natural law. The impression he gives here is that he is treating his own opinion regarding the general emphasis in Scripture as the standard, without sensing any need to show that his opinion regarding the separability of the two functions of the marital act is in fact the teaching of Scripture and/or the natural law.

    He writes:

    The focus on “each and every act” of sexual intercourse within a faithful marriage that is open to the gift of children goes beyond the biblical demand.

    Mohler reasons that because the Bible does not explicitly state that each and every act of sexual intercourse should remain ordered in itself to procreation, therefore, the Catholic Church’s teaching that each and every act of sexual intercourse should remain ordered in itself to procreation “goes beyond the biblical demand.”

    If by “goes beyond the biblical demand” Mohler means “is morally permissible because not addressed or required by the Bible,” this would give a moral green light to human cloning, sex robots (see comment #168 above), and ‘harvesting’ the organs of prisoners executed by capital punishment, since the Bible doesn’t say anything about those actions as well. That would contradict his explicit acknowledgement of the natural law elsewhere in the article. So if a moral prohibition “goes beyond the biblical demand,” that isn’t sufficient to conclude that this moral prohibition is false or non-obligatory. If, however, he wants to grant the authority of the natural law, then he cannot justifiably conclude merely from the silence of Scripture about some type of action that the Catholic teaching concerning the immorality of that action is “too much,” or “inordinate.” Nor can he justifiably conclude that the Catholic teaching’s going “beyond the biblical demand” (in the sense of prohibiting a type of action not explicitly addressed in Scripture) is therefore a moral green light to engage in that action.

    Mohler continues:

    Since the encyclical does not reject all family planning, this focus requires the distinction between “natural” and “artificial” methods of birth control. To the evangelical mind, this is a rather strange and fabricated distinction. Looking at the Catholic position helps, but evangelicals must also think for themselves, reasoning from the Scriptures in a careful consideration.

    The Catholic teaching may seem “strange” to the evangelical mind, but, isn’t that to be expected? Sometimes a truth we discover seems strange at first, precisely because we were unaware of it. It being strange isn’t, of course, a good reason for rejecting it. The Catholic teaching is not ‘fabricated;’ there is a principled moral difference between actively thwarting the procreative function in the conjugal act, and choosing to abstain from the conjugal act during the fertile period. Such an abstinence can be morally justified under certain conditions, because there is nothing intrinsically disordered about the choice to abstain, per se, all other things being equal. But thwarting the marital act itself is intrinsically disordered, and therefore cannot ever be morally justified. (See comment #31 above.) Even a modicum of research would explain this principled distinction to Mohler.

    If he thinks this distinction is arbitrary or unprincipled, then he should provide the argument showing that this distinction is arbitrary, rather than merely hand-waving with terms like “strange and fabricated.” The argument for the Catholic position is much more substantive than his treatment implies, and thus his dismissal of the Catholic doctrine is premature and unjustified.

    Lastly he writes:

    Fifth, with all this in view, evangelical couples may, at times, choose to use contraceptives in order to plan their families and enjoy the pleasures of the marital bed. The couple must consider all these issues with care, and must be truly open to the gift of children. The moral justification for using contraceptives must be clear in the couple’s mind, and fully consistent with the couple’s Christian commitments.

    In Mohler’s opinion, from all that he has said in this article, it follows that evangelicals may use contraceptives. Yes, according to Mohler, evangelicals should be open to children, and they should make sure that their moral justification for using contraceptives is clear in their mind and consistent with their Christian commitments. But the take-home message amounts to rather weak sauce: With the rationalizations you’ve been using, and consistent with the commitments you’ve embraced, carry on with whatever you’ve been doing. Perhaps that is not an entirely fair characterization of Mohler’s concluding exhortation. But when it comes to the most powerful appetite we humans have, merely telling Christians to make sure their moral justifications are clear in their minds, and fully consistent with their Christian commitments, amounts to telling them to carry on.

    Mohler needs to deal with the problem of what is entailed by his position that in any conjugal act the two functions of the act may be separated, such that the couple may choose one end while actively thwarting the other. See comment #16 here, regarding the relation between disconnecting these two ends, and the same-sex marriage issue. See comment #161 above, regarding the relation between disconnected these two ends, and Driscoll’s endorsement of anal sex within marriage. The conceptual disconnection of those two ends underlies the spread of “baby boxes” in Europe. See comment #171 above, in relation to what Cardinal Burke says about the intrinsic connection between disconnecting these two ends, and the abortion issue. And when these two ends are disconnected, nothing prevents the rise of bestiality.

  177. Friends, a new website recently launched that I thought you might enjoy if this subject interests you. Its called 1flesh.org, subtitled “The Revolt Against Artificial Contraception.” Here is the blog post announcing the project, from the always hilarious “Bad Catholic.”

    My favorite things so far are the graphics. Very, very well done!

  178. A Lutheran pastor reconsiders Humane Vitae, writing:

    The article in the 1997 issue of The Lutheran missed marriage entirely. But that is what happens when marriage is divorced from the construction of family. At heart, I think this necessary connection between marriage and family formation is what Paul VI sought to preserve.

    The male half of the cohabiting couple featured by The Lutheran was quoted: “At this point, emotionally, spiritually, mentally there is nothing I could gain from marriage that I don’t already have.”

    Oh? How about the task and joy, the duty and delight, of serving Christ in the public vocation of marriage, that necessarily intrinsic connection once existing between sex and marriage?

    Culturally, marriage no longer has a purpose beyond self-fulfillment. The Lutheran’s article was an implicit admission of it. The couples sought fulfillment of self in each other. There is nothing wrong with that, but it can become thin gruel if it is the only purpose. There was little in the 1997 article to suggest anything else.

    (source)

  179. Damon Linker, writing in support of same-sex marriage legislation, responds to the argument by George, Girgis, and Anderson, with the following:

    Permitting gay marriage will not lead Americans to stop thinking of marriage as a conjugal union. Quite the reverse: Gay marriage has come to be widely accepted because our society stopped thinking of marriage as a conjugal union decades ago.

    Between five and six decades ago, to be precise. That’s when the birth control pill — first made available to consumers for the treatment of menstrual disorders in 1957 and approved by the FDA for contraceptive use three years later — began to transform sexual relationships, and hence marriage, in the United States. Once pregnancy was decoupled from intercourse, pre-marital sex became far more common, which removed one powerful incentive to marry young (or marry at all). It likewise became far more common for newlyweds to give themselves an extended childless honeymoon (with some couples choosing never to have kids).

    In all of these ways, and many more, the widespread availability of contraception transformed marriage from a conjugal union into a relationship based to a considerable degree on the emotional and sexual fulfillment of its members — with childrearing often, though not always, a part of the equation. And it is because same-sex couples are obviously just as capable as heterosexual couples of forming relationships based on emotional and sexual fulfillment that gay marriage has come to be accepted so widely and so quickly in our culture.

    Of course Linker is quite right regarding how we got into this present situation. He understands the reason why the popular conception of marriage changed. And so does the Catholic Church (though, many Catholics do not, unfortunately). The question is when will non-Catholic Christians and Christian denominations that strongly support the biblical and traditional understanding of marriage, come to see the incompatibility between their position on marriage and their embrace of contraception?

  180. Bryan:

    I agree that Linker’s analysis, as distinct from his support of SSM legislation, is dead-on. But, to answer your question: I doubt most will. If reason typically prevailed, Protestantism would long ago have lost such reason for being as it once had.

    Best,
    Mike

  181. Has anyone yet read, so as to evaluate or recommend, the recent work of Alexander Pruss on sexual ethics: “One Body: An Essay in Christian Sexual Ethics”?

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  182. In #171 I linked to an account by Sarah Nelson in which she discovered what Cardinal (then Archbishop) Burke was referring to regarding the intrinsic underlying relation between contraception and abortion. In #179 I noted Damon Linker’s observation of the underlying relation between contraception and same-sex marriage. In the video below Michael Voris points to the underlying relation between the Lambeth decision of 1930 and the proliferation of all its terrible fruits:

  183. At Matthews Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Matthews, North Carolina, James Anderson, associate professor of theology and philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC, gave a talk on Catholicism last year in which he claimed (in minute 41) the following regarding the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraception:

    The prohibition of contraception is also based in large measure, I think, on more medieval views of exactly what goes on in procreation. The medieval view is that the male seed was actually a human being, in seed form. It was all on the male side. There wasn’t an understanding of how a sperm and an egg actually combine to make a human being. And so to spill the male seed, or to allow it to not fulfill its purpose was tantamount to murder. And while science has moved on, arguably Catholic teaching on that point has not.

    Anderson does not attempt to demonstrate the truth of this claim; he merely asserts it. But, in actuality, he is seriously mistaken concerning the basis for the Catholic teaching. The Catholic teaching on contraception is not based or grounded upon on the assumption that human sperms are human persons or human beings (or that human ova are human persons or human beings). And all the popes who have upheld this moral doctrine since it was first challenged by the Anglicans in the 1930s have been aware of the nature of sperm and egg, which had already been well established by the early 20th century. The Catholic teaching is instead based on the nature of the sexual act, as explained in Matt’s post above.

  184. Bryan, reading your #160 (which condemns anal sex specifically, but is applicable to non-procreative sex in general), it occurred to me that a straightforward objection someone could make to the statements in the 3rd paragraph of that comment is that it might as well be used to condemn back-scratching.

    But clearly mutual back-scratching, performed either simultaneously or succesively, can be self-giving, an unselfish act of mutual love affectively uniting two persons (obviously not as “one flesh”), rather than an act of selfishness or use of another person for one’s own gratification, as the scratchee does not necessarily “instrumentalize the scratcher in the pursuit of his or her own gratification”.

    So, if that’s the case with mutual back-scratching, why can’t it be with non-procreative sex?

    Obviously the reason is that the act of mutual back-scratching cannot be “inherently open to the gift of life” and therefore has no procreative end that is being frustrated, as neither the back nor the hand as organs have a procreative faculty that is being perverted.

    So the problem with non-procreative sex is not just that the couple is pursuing their own gratification – which clearly they could do in a true friendship way, i.e. mutually and not each partner seeking selfishly his or her own -, but that they are doing that with organs that are intended for a higher end that they are positively frustrating, which is not the case with mutual back-scratching.

  185. Paul Levy, a pastor in the “International Presbyterian Church,” writes,

    Sex within marriage is God’s answer to [sexual] immorality, and so Christians need to work really hard at having good sex lives.

    That reminds me of Kant’s notion that we have a duty to pursue happiness, so as to avoid the temptations to violate our duty under unhappy conditions. Contrast the Reformed notion of sex within marriage as the solution to sexual immortality, with the Catholic position. According to the Catholic position, the virtue of chastity, both within marriage and outside of marriage, strengthened by discipline, prayer and the sacraments, is God’s answer to sexual immorality. The Reformed position (as described by Levy) makes single people intrinsically unequipped to avoid falling into sexual immorality. Problems with pornography? Well, he isn’t married, and thus doesn’t have access to the essential antidote to sexual immorality. Hook-up lifestyle? Again, he’s not married, and thus doesn’t have God’s solution to sexual immorality. Date-rape? He just needs to get married. This position reduces the sexual act within marriage to a necessary means for resisting sexual temptation. But it also entails that the lack thereof (or the lack of some variation/permutation of sexual expression between married persons) is the convenient excuse when one fails to resist sexual temptation, both when unmarried, and when married. There is a sense in which what Levy says doesn’t accurately represent what Reformed leaders (Levy included) would say to single people, because they would urge unmarried persons to obey the divine law, and avoid fornication, through “Bible study, accountability groups, prayer, and attentiveness to solid preaching.” (See “Habitual Sin and the Grace of the Sacraments.”) But at the same time, what Levy says isn’t merely a slip of the Reformed tongue. The notion that sex-within-marriage is the solution to sexual immorality is a widely held position among Reformed persons. It treats gratifying and appeasing the sexual appetite as the solution, whereas the Catholic doctrine teaches that training and mastering the sexual appetite is the solution.

  186. Bryan (185),

    Could you explain the relationship of what you have stated with I Cor 7. This passage popped into my mind as I read your comment. It sounds like it is one factor in resisting temptation [not the only one, for sure]…..but I am not sure I am understanding things correctly. Here is the passage:

    “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

  187. Kim, (re: #186)

    In the Catholic understanding, the quieting of concupiscence is a secondary effect of marriage, and a secondary effect of the marital act within marriage. It is not the purpose of marriage, nor the purpose of the marital act. Rather it is one of the ways in which couples help each other, though necessarily only subordinate to higher ends, as Pope Pius XI teaches:

    For in matrimony as well as in the use of the matrimonial rights there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider so long as they are subordinated to the primary end and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved. (Casti Connubii, 59)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  188. In his post titled “Five Questions for Christians who Believe the Bible Supports Gay Marriage,” the best reason that senior pastor Kevin DeYoung of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, can give against anal sex is merely pragmatic, as if natural law has nothing to say about the question. (See comment #160 above.)

    But his fifth question is self-refuting. He writes:

    5. How have all Christians at all times and in all places interpreted the Bible so wrongly for so long?

    The appropriate and fatal answer, of course, is: “The same way you think they did until Lambeth in 1930.” One cannot appeal to Tradition as authoritative while in an ad hoc (i.e. pick and choose) relation to it, because “if I submit only when I agree, the one to whom I submit is me.” And that’s the same problem DeYoung faces on the question of justification, as I explained in comment #262 of the Ecclesial Deism thread, and the same problem he faces regarding the question of what baptism does (“one baptism for the forgiveness of sins”), as explained in the “The Church Fathers on Baptismal Regeneration” thread, and so on. But on the issue of “gay marriage,” if natural law has nothing to say, and there is no authoritative Tradition (including no authoritative interpretive Tradition), and no Magisterium, and Kevin DeYoung can draw his ecclesial target around his interpretive arrow, then so can all those who are delighted to realize that it is as possible to interpret the Bible so as to allow “gay marriage” as it is possible to interpret the Bible so as to allow contraception. If Luther had the ‘authority’ to place his own interpretation of Scripture over that of the Church, then everyone has the ‘authority’ to place his or her own interpretation of Scripture over that of DeYoung, who stands in the Protestant tradition of which Luther is the father.

  189. Bryan,

    How is a question self-refuting?

  190. Hello Brandon (re: #189),

    When (a) it is intended by the questioner to be a criticism of his interlocutor’s position by way of a claim presupposed by the question, and (b) this presupposed claim is rejected by the questioner himself.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  191. Bryan,
    I was reading a poll where over 50% of RC’s support gay marriage. What is shocking about this is that this is believed by so many RC’s in a church that claims to have an infallible interpreter of Scripture and tradition not to mention the magesterium. So having all these things does not influence these millions of RC’s at all on this issue.

  192. Pat, (re: #191)

    Your comment is an example of the tu quoque fallacy, because it leaves untouched the truth of everything I said. But that sort of reply is so frequent that I wrote a post explaining exactly why it fails. The provision of a principled means for distinguishing between authoritative doctrine and mere opinion is no guarantee of some minimal level of complete adherence to that doctrine by all members of the Church, nor does some level of non-adherence to that doctrine by some members of the Church show that there is no such principled means present. The real difference between having and not having a principled means for distinguishing between authoritative doctrine and mere opinion is not nullified or refuted by disobedience or error (in this case to the Church’s teaching on this question), no matter what the level of culpability or non-culpability, on the part of those for whom this means is available. If you would like to discuss this in more detail, please do so on the “Two Questions” thread.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  193. Pat:

    The greater and more salient point you make implicitly in your tu quoque is your recognition that these Catholics are dissenting from Catholic teaching. Meaning, the fact that you know that their opinion is dissent from authoritative teaching is ostensive of the Church’s clear dogmatic constitution.

    Unlike this observation, when a Protestant holds the same view of a dissenting Catholic, it is not ostensive that the Protestant is dissenting from some dogma but rather is in disagreement with their fellow Christian regarding a personal/private interpretation of Scripture. It is inconsequential if that interpretation is true or not, that is accidental to what is in disagreement.

    We all have wandering sheep. It is a scandal – Lord have mercy. The question is if we both have a fence to distinguish between those who are in and those who are wandering.

  194. Pat,

    Heck, even 99% of catholics may feel gay is right but so what? The church is suppose to cave in to popular demand? This is what that is happening to some of the denomination in the early 20th century. Reform or lose membership. So, ultimately, are we suppose to please and obey god’s command or is it the other way round?

  195. Pat,

    It is true that the divinely-appointed authority of the Church does not, in itself, prevent people in the Catholic Church from following after the spirit of the age, just as the God-inspired Scriptures do not, in themselves, prevent people in various other churches and ecclesial communities from following after the spirit of the age. However, it does not follow from this infidelity that either the Magisterium or Tradition or Scripture does not have divine authority (in the sense that the former is infallible in certain circumstances and the latter are infallible as unwritten and written divine revelation).

    Andrew

  196. Pat,

    One thing that I believe is different about the Catholic position is that it makes it possible for me to be knowingly obedient or disobedient on certain topics.

    There are always disputed matters in a fallen world; and what is disputed varies from age to age as the mental myopias of the culture change.

    And it is no surprise that the baptized would, through their interaction with the culture, sometimes become confused or adopt wholly-unChristian worldviews without recognizing they had done so. And this would naturally lead to adopting conflicting views about what is right and what is true.

    Now, in an ecclesial community which lacks a Magisterium, if 40% of my fellow members believe X, and 40% believe Not-X, and 20% are uncertain, and if I am one of the uncertain persons, what shall I do? I do not want to disobey God. I can adopt X as my position, and hope that that’s right in the end; or I can adopt Not-X with the same hope…but what I don’t have the option of doing is “Obeying what I KNOW God to be teaching me.” Because I don’t know.

    Conversely, when there is a Magisterium, and when the Magisterium has explictly ruled that XYZ is immoral, I can say to God, “Look, God, I don’t understand this moral teaching which says XYZ is prohibited. I don’t quite see why that’s the case. And even if I studied it for a decade I might never see it. But, the ‘motives of credibility’ have led me to believe that You empowered your Church to reliably teach what is true. And in this case, your Church teaches that XYZ is sinful. Therefore, even though I myself don’t ‘get it’, I will assume that XYZ is sinful and plead my own ignorance when asked why.”

    Now THAT is obedience. And it’s difficult. It’s a kind of obedience — a kind of faith — that very rarely ever gets exercised in the modern world in any other way. (Save perhaps in taking orders in the military when the reasons for them are “Need To Know” and you’ve been told you don’t need to know.)

    Here’s another observation you might find helpful:

    With a Protestant denominations, the “center of gravity” is important for defining the denomination. What I mean is: When you see clusters of people holding the same view (e.g. “Once Saved, Always Saved” for Southern Baptists) you can more-or-less generalize and call that view the “denomination’s position.” You acknowledge the existence of outliers, but those outliers don’t change the truth of the overall generalization.

    So, wherever those clusters of people are most concentrated is the “center of gravity” for that denomination.

    And this has an important implication: When a person is too far away from the center of gravity on too many positions, we say truthfully that they are “no longer a member” of that denomination. A “Southern Baptist” who believes in infant regenerative baptism, the Real Presence, the necessity for bishops, that salvation can be chucked away by unrepentant serious sin, and that Sabbath worship should be on Saturdays is really not a “Southern Baptist” at all: He is too far off the reservation in too many ways.

    But in the Catholic Church, the “center of gravity” on doctrine is the Magisterium.

    There is consequently a difference in terminology: Catholics generally don’t stop calling so-and-so a “Catholic” even when they’re way, way “off the reservation”; and many people still call themselves “Catholic” when they’re way, way “off the reservation.” These same people would never continue calling themselves Southern Baptist if they disagreed with the “center of gravity” of Southern Baptists so profoundly! Their label would change. But with Catholics, the label is often retained.

    To put it another way: If we used the Protestant “center of gravity on doctrines” method of assigning labels on certain Catholic persons, we would certainly say that they were “not really Catholic.” They are too far off the reservation on too many topics.

    But in the Catholic world, the label is often applied to all persons baptized/confirmed as Catholic. That’s what makes a person Catholic. Their doctrines might not be Catholic, but the person still gets called “Catholic.” (I can think of some politicians whose doctrines seem to be a mix of liberal Epicopalianism and agnosticism. But the person is Catholic by the mark of their baptism, as well as their own quixotic self-description.)

    The Magisterium is not the only reason for this difference in how terms are used, but I think it’s part of it. It allows the freedom to KNOW what the center of gravity is, doctrinally, whether or not the vast majority of the baptized disobey.

  197. My friend Fr. James Brent O.P, Ph.D. gave a worthwhile interview last year on the subject of contraception, titled “On Contraceptives.” The longer and more detailed version of that work is titled “To Be Someone Radiant,” and can be found here.

    Update: Patrick Lee has a good short article in Legatus on this subject titled “The Church’s Countercultural Teaching on Contraception.” See also William Newton’s “The Side Effects of the Pill: Why the Church Has So Much to Say about Contraception.”

  198. Bryan (re: #31),

    You said:

    Why is it wrong to use contraceptives, but not wrong to regulate births by having sexual relations only during the woman’s infertile period? Both cases seem to be morally equivalent.

    Answer: Non-contracepted sexual intercourse during the infertile period shares the same secondary end as contracepted sex, i.e. avoiding pregnancy. It is not that shared [secondary] end but the difference in means that makes contracepted sex intrinsically disordered and the use of the infertile period not intrinsically disordered. The contracepting couple deliberately sterilize fertile intercourse; the couple practicing natural family planning does not do so. They deliberately abstain from fertile intercourse.

    In the combox under the video of this talk (url: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wtOlqtmsoiw) by Jason Evert, a commenter named “Unclenate1000” disputes the idea that a distinction can be made between contraception and NFP regarding the morality of the act. The commenter says:

    [Evert’s] arguments for the distinction between artificial contraception and natural contraception (NFP) all fail.

    His analogy of the bulimia vs. dieting is a bad one right from the start because in that analogy the goal is a good one. namely staying slim. However with contraception and NFP the goal is ITSELF immoral, namely trying to divide sex from its true purpose (procreation). So the MEANS to achieve that bad goal shouldn’t matter at all.

    “At what point does an NFP couple contracept?” Precisely when they have sex when they are consciously AWARE that they are infertile COMBINED with the INTENTION to avoid pregnancy while having sex. Thats different from simply having sex on what happens to be the infertile time of the month. Its about the INTENTION, it always has been when it comes to morality.

    Just because “God gave us” infertile seasons does not Automatically mean it is morally licit to take advantage of them in this manner. As you said yourself; the reason why contraception is wrong is because it splits sex from its real purpose; procreation. Given that moral fact, we should apply it to the fact that we have infertile seasons to determine the moral and immoral ways that they could be used.

    It’s nice that NFP has all those side benefits as opposed to artificial contraceptive, but when it comes to the ultimate reason why contraception is immoral, NFP falls right under it.

    I know you are not here to defend Jason. However, I was wondering if you could comment on his argument that the NFP couple contracepts because of their intention at the time of their awareness of pregnancy, and how this relates to the morality of the act.

    Peace,
    John D.

  199. JohnD, (re: #198)

    However with contraception and NFP the goal is ITSELF immoral, namely trying to divide sex from its true purpose (procreation).

    This is a straw man. Such an intention would be bad. But the intention in NFP need not be to divide sex from its true purpose. The intention (for abstaining during the fertile period, but not abstaining during the infertile period) should include the proper regulation of birth, which is an aspect of responsible fatherhood and motherhood, and is objectively morally acceptable when it satisfies the three conditions listed in the last paragraph of comment #31 above.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  200. “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” (Mt. 22:30)

    This passage has an implication relevant to the Church’s teaching on contraception. Consider, for the sake of argument, that the unitive purpose of the sexual act could be separated from the procreative purpose. Now, even if there would be no more procreation in the life to come, nevertheless resurrected husbands and wives who died in a state of grace will continue to love each other, undoubtedly love each other even more perfectly than they love each other now in the present age. In that case, they could either remain married in the life to come, continuing everlastingly to express their mutual love for each other in the sexual act, utilizing its unitive function, or, they could extend their expression of love through the sexual act to the other resurrected saints as well such that the whole community of saints constituted, as it were, a large polygamous sexually active family. But Christ’s teaching in the above passage rules out both marriage and the sexual act in the life to come. Given that the procreative function of the sexual act is completed in the present life, Christ’s teaching can be explained only if the unitive purpose of the sexual act cannot be separated from the procreative purpose. If the unitive and procreative purposes could come apart, the completion of the procreative purpose in this present life would not disallow the continuation of the sexual act for its unitive purpose in the age to come.

  201. On the topic of birth control, Calvin had this to say;
    “When a woman in some way drives away the seed out the womb, through aids, then this is rightly seen as an unforgivable crime.”
    Although Luther believed in traducianism, Calvin believed that souls came into existence by way of creationism. Creationism says man cooperates in bringing forth new human persons as pro-creators. Contraception makes it impossible for God to create and infuse a spiritual soul into the material supplied by the man and the woman. Although the Reformed dislike the idea of synergism when it comes to regeneration, those that still hold to creationism have to concede that man and God work in a synergistic relationship in the production of new human beings.
    What percent of modern day followers of Calvinism follow him in the area of creationism is hard to say. Very few follow him on birth control. One well known spokesperson for Calvinism is Greg Koukl. He is both a traducionist and a supporter of contraception. Although he usually makes sound arguments from philosophy, when it comes to both of these issues, Koukl suddenly will settle for nothing less than a black and white statement from the Bible. As he denies there are any explicit references to birth control in the Bible ( including Gen 38:10 ) and as he believes the Bible is clear that God stopped all acts of creation ex nihilo after the 6th day, he is free to break with Calvin on both of these subjects.
    Among non Calvinists, I certainly think traducianism is on the rise if what I see on the blogosphere is accurate. While I am not saying that traducianism is the only reason Protestants accept contraception, it certainly does make it easier to swallow if the argument about man procreating or cooperating with God can be dismissed.
    Even staunch opponents of abortion like Mike Huckabee, James Dobson and the above mentioned Greg Koukl are on record as supporting artificial birth control just so long as it is not abortifacient. Modern Protestants have severed all ties with Christian tradition on this.

  202. Economist Catherine Pakaluk: “Does Contraception Change the Game?”

    Pakaluk’s argument leads directly to the argument made by Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker regarding the economics of sex, depicted in the short video below:

  203. Following up comment #171 above, regarding the relation between contraception and the culture of death, a lecture by Prof. William Newton, titled “Contraception and Culture of Death:”

  204. Orthodox priest Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon on contraceptives:

  205. Protestant Charles D. Provan’s The Bible and Birth Control.

  206. The Historic Christian Teaching Against Contraception: A Defense” by Sherif Girgis (Aug. 10, 2016)

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