Is the Church Still Against Contraception?

The short answer is Yes, the Church is still against contraception. I want to anticipate that this article doesn’t have the objective of explaining why contraception is wrong, nor it wants to explain the true nature of sexuality, but this article has simply the goal to inform what the Church believes. My hope is that in the future, I will write an article that will also justify and explain this teaching, but for now I just want to bring some clarity in the midst of so much confusion among Catholics, in particular those who believe the Church allows such a practice. I want to advise my readers to ‘directly’ read also the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae (https://w2.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae.html ) by Saint Paul VI for a greater understanding on the topic.

The use of contraception, also in marriage, constitutes (if done with full awareness and deliberate consent) a mortal sin, that is, a sin worthy of eternal damnation, which means that it is necessary to repent from such action and confess it by going to the sacrament of confession (which includes also saying how many times such sin has been committed).

The decision to repent is to answer God’s love and call to be His son, it is recognizing one’s own fault, understanding how it offended the One you should love the most, and out of love for Him, to desire to never do it again. One is able to repent thanks to God’s grace that moves the heart to love Him, although of course one can refuse that Grace.

The main point of this article is that the Church, in its infallible teachings, is inspired by the Holy Spirit, which means that those teachings of the Church can never change. They can develop according to deeper understandings, but they can never change. Even the doctrine of the Trinity, one of the first to be defined by the Church[1], can never change. No Pope can never infallibly define that God is not a Trinity. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, He is God, (He inspires the Church) and He cannot lie, He cannot contradict himself. Once some truth is defined, for the very nature of what truth is, it cannot be contradicted.

Now we will see how Scripture, the Fathers of the Church, the Popes through the centuries, the ecumenical councils, the famous document “Humanae Vitae”, the current Catechism and all the most recent Popes, have all condemned and deemed as immoral the practice of contraception.

Scripture

This is what Scripture has to say regarding contraception in Genesis 38:6-10

And Judah took a wife for Er his first-born, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s first-born, was wicked in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord slew him. Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife, and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother’s wife he spilled the semen on the ground, lest he should give offspring to his brother. And what he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord, and he slew him also.

Onan wasted the seed, Onan separated sexuality from its procreative purpose by rendering the act closed to life, and that merited a severe direct punishment from God.

Some protestants say that Onan was punished for not fulfilling the Levirate Law, but that was not a capital punishment, the custom was that the woman had to confront the man “go up to him and strip his sandal from his foot and spit in his face, saying publicly, ‘This is how one should be treated who will not build up his brother’s family!'” (Deut. 25:9).[2]

Early Church Fathers[3]

Letter of Barnabas

Moreover, he [Moses] has rightly detested the weasel [Lev. 11:29]. For he means, “Thou shalt not be like to those whom we hear of as committing wickedness with the mouth with the body through uncleanness [orally consummated sex]; nor shalt thou be joined to those impure women who commit iniquity with the mouth with the body through uncleanness” (Letter of Barnabas 10:8 [A.D. 74]).

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).

Hippolytus

Whence women, reputed believers, began to resort to drugs for producing sterility [oral contraceptives], and to gird themselves round, so to expel what was being conceived [abortion] on account of their not wishing to have a child either by a slave or by any paltry fellow, for the sake of their family and excessive wealth. Behold, into how great impiety that lawless one has proceeded, by inculcating adultery and murder at the same time! (Refutation of All Heresies 9:7 [A.D. 225]).

Minucius Felix

There are some women who, by drinking medical preparations, extinguish the source of the future man in their very bowels, and thus commit a parricide before they bring forth (Octavius 30 [A.D. 226]).

Lactantius

[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 (Divine Institutes 6:20 [A.D. 307]).

God gave us eyes not to see and desire pleasure, but to see acts to be performed for the needs of life; so too, the genital [‘generating’] part of the body, as the name itself teaches, has been received by us for no other purpose than the generation of offspring (ibid. 6:23:18).

Epiphanius

They [certain Egyptian heretics] exercise genital acts, yet prevent the conceiving of children. Not in order to produce offspring, but to satisfy lust, are they eager for corruption (Medicine Chest Against Heresies 26:5:2 [A.D. 375]).

John Chrysostom

[l]n truth, all men know that they who are under the power of this disease [the sin of covetousness] are wearied even of their father’s old age [wishing him to die so they can inherit]; and that which is sweet) and universally desirable, the having of children, they esteem grievous and unwelcome. Many at least with this view have even paid money to be childless, and have mutilated nature, not only killing the newborn, but even acting to prevent their beginning to live [sterilization] (Homilies on Matthew 28:5 [A.D. 391]).

Why do you sow where the field is eager to destroy the fruit, where there are medicines of sterility [oral contraceptives], where there is murder before birth?. . . Indeed, it is something worse than murder, and I do not know what to call it; for she does not kill what is formed but prevents its formation. What then? Do you condemn the gift of God and Fight with his [natural] laws? (Homilies on Romans 24 [A.D. 391]).

Jerome

But I wonder why he [the heretic Jovinianus] set Judah and Tamar before us for an example, unless perchance even harlots give him pleasure; or Onan, who was slain because he grudged his brother seed. Does he imagine that we approve of any sexual intercourse except for the procreation of children? (Against Jovinian 1:19 [A.D. 393]).

You may see a number of women who are widows before they are wives. Others, indeed, will drink sterility [oral contraceptives] and murder a man not yet born, [and some commit abortion] (Letters 22:13 [A.D. 396]).

Augustine

This proves that you [Manicheans] approve of having a wife, not for the procreation of children, but for the gratification of passion. In marriage, as the marriage law declares, the man and woman come together for the procreation of children. Therefore, whoever makes the procreation of children a greater sin than copulation, forbids marriage and makes the woman not a wife but a mistress, who for some gifts presented to her, is joined to the man to gratify his passion (The Morals of the Manichees 18:65 [A.D. 388]).

You [Manicheans] make your auditors adulterers of their wives when they take care lest the women with whom they copulate conceive. They take wives according to the laws of matrimony by tablets announcing that the marriage is contracted to procreate children; and then, fearing because of your [religious] law [against childbearing] . . . they copulate in a shameful union only to satisfy lust for their wives. They are unwilling to have children, on whose account alone marriages are made. How is it, then, that you are not those prohibiting marriage, as the apostle predicted of you so long ago [I Tim. 4:1-4], when you try to take from marriage what marriage is? When this is taken away, husbands are shameful lovers, wives are harlots, bridal chambers are brothels, fathers-in-law are pimps (Against Faustus 15:7 [A.D. 400]).

For thus the eternal law, that is, the will of God creator of all creatures, taking counsel for the conservation of natural order, not to serve lust, but to see to the preservation of the race, permits the delight of mortal flesh to be released from the control of reason in copulation only to propagate progeny (ibid. 22:30).

Caesarius

Who is he who cannot warn that no woman may take a potion [an oral contraceptive or an abortifacient] so that she is unable to conceive or condemns in herself the nature which God willed to be fecund? As often as she could have conceived or given birth, of that many homicides she will be held guilty, and, unless she undergoes suitable penance, she will be damned by eternal death in hell. If a women does not wish to have children, let her enter into a religious agreement with her husband; for chastity is the sole sterility of a Christian woman (Sermons 1:12 [A.D. 522]).

The official Church’s position

After the appearance of the first oral contraceptive pill in the early 60s, a Pontifical commission was created by Pope Saint John XXIII and then, Pope St Paul VI formed a commission of medical experts, theologians, 16 bishops and 7 cardinals. The majority of the commission (64 out of 69) concluded that contraception was not intrinsically evil. Nonetheless, Pope St Paul VI with his divine authority[4] and great courage, decreed definitively that contraception is intrinsically evil while stating that natural family planning is a moral alternative.

Here is the central passage of the encyclical which interests us.

“Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary.

Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.

Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one, or that such intercourse would merge with procreative acts of past and future to form a single entity, and so be qualified by exactly the same moral goodness as these. Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good,” it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it—in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general. Consequently, it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong.” (Humanae Vitae, 14)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Catechism wrote under Pope Saint John Paul II reaffirms the condemnation of contraception in paragraph 2370

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

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

The position of the last three “modern” Popes

All of the last Popes, allegedly regarded as “modern” have reaffirmed the condemnation of contraception. There are a great amount of quotes (especially from St John Paul II), I will just report a few.

Pope Saint John Paul II[5]

Ratifying Pope Paul’s teaching
2. October 1979

To the bishops of the Episcopal Conference of the U.S. at Chicago on Oct. 8, 1979, the Pope said:

“In exalting the beauty of marriage you rightly spoke against both the ideology of contraception and contraceptive acts, as did the encyclical Humanae vitae. And I myself today, with the same conviction of Paul VI, ratify the teaching of this encyclical, which was put forth by my Predecessor by virtue of the mandate entrusted to us by Christ” (AAS, 60, 1968, p.485, Origins, Oct. 18, 1979).

Pastoral action must not contradict doctrine
6. May 1983

On May 30, 1983, Pope John Paul II addressed the participants in the first Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family. Among other things he discussed the need for pastoral action to be faithful to the Church documents Humanae vitae and Familiaris Consortio:

“It is absolutely necessary that the pastoral action of Christian communities be totally faithful to the teachings of the Encyclical Humanae vitae and the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio. It would be a grave error to set up pastoral requirements in opposition to doctrinal teaching, since the very first service that the Church must perform for people is to tell them the truth of which she is neither the author nor the master.” (Osservatore Romano, June 6, 1983).

Benedict XVI

Some of his words were misinterpreted and twisted regarding this issue, so the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith restated Pope Benedict’s unchangeable position

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20101221_luce-del-mondo_en.html

Pope Francis

In an interview[6] Pope Francis stated clearly that there is no intention of changing doctrine regarding contraception

“Paul VI himself, at the end, recommended to confessors much mercy, and attention to concrete situations. But his genius was prophetic, he had the courage to place himself against the majority, defending the moral discipline, exercising a culture brake, opposing present and future neo-Malthusianism. The question is not that of changing the doctrine but of going deeper and making pastoral (ministry) take into account the situations and that which it is possible for people to do. Also of this we will speak in the path of the synod.”

Ed Da Pra

[1] the first is the decision that circumcision is not necessary to be a Christian, this was decided at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15

[2] Taken and paraphrased from https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/the-sin-of-onan

[3] This whole chapter is taken from http://www.staycatholic.com/ecf_contraception.htm

[4] https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/is-humanae-vitae-infallible-teaching

[5] Taken from http://www.catholicsagainstcontraception.com/statements_by_john_paul_ii_1978_1996.htm

[6] https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/transcript-pope-francis-march-5-interview-with-corriere-della-sera

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