This post was inspired by a few conversations I’ve had with some people about contraception since my post on Tuesday:
Until just 80 years ago every major Christian religion condemned the practice of intentionally sterilizing the marital act as gravely immoral. Then, in 1930, the Anglican Council of Bishops approved of married couples using “other methods” of avoiding pregnancy, in very limited circumstances and provided it’s “decided on Christian principles.” I know several people who, on the one hand will agree that it is wrong to use contraception to support a perpetually promiscuous sexual lifestyle, but on the other hand don’t understand why it should be a problem if contraception is used, as those first Christians to approve of contraception agreed that it could be, “responsibly” by a married couple who does not want to have a lot of children. Thank God for Pope Paul VI:
“[I]t is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (cf. Romans, 3:8)—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.”–Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, 14
Intentionally sterilizing the marital act is always morally wrong, no matter who is doing it and for what reasons. It is, as I said the other day, an affront to the nature of the marital act as God created it and a gross distortion of the eternal reality that sex and marriage is meant to symbolize (Eph 5:21-32). The use of contraception not only destroys (or attempts to destroy) the procreative aspect of the marital act, but by one or the other spouse withholding his or her fertility, it destroys unity as well.
The whole issue of “birth control” really comes down a question of, as it’s name suggests, control – Who is my God? Who is in charge of my life? Radical personal autonomy is the crusade of our modern contraception loving society; “By body, my choice” its battle cry. And yet, who among us can really boast of having any choice whatsoever in the circumstances that gave him a body and brought him to life in the first place?
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price.” (1 Corinth. 6:19-20)
Whether we live or die we are the Lord’s (Rom. 14:8)! It is in His will that we find true peace and happiness.
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 (Humanae Vitae, 13).
Let’s be clear here, no one is suggesting, though we have been accused of it, that women become “breeding machines” or that couples should have as many children as humanly possible. There can be serious reasons for a couple to avoid pregnancy, but artificial contraception is not a necessity for doing so. A woman does not ovulate every day of the month and modern methods of natural family planning can determine with almost absolute certainty when a woman is ovulating so that, if a couple has a serious reason for avoiding pregnancy, they can avoid intercourse during that period and then take advantage of the natural cycles of infertility to engage in marital intercourse. Surely it is not impossible for a couple to abstain from sex for a few days out of the entire month. Unlike birth control this method regulating birth upholds the beauty and sanctity of the female body and the marital act and allows couples to cooperate with God – rather than taking their fertility and the matters of life into their own hands.
“When, therefore, through contraception, married couples remove from the exercise of their conjugal sexuality its potential procreative capacity, they claim a power which belongs solely to God; the power to decide in the final analysis the coming into existence of a human person. They assume the qualification not of being cooperators in God’s creative power, but the ultimate depositories of the source of human life. In this perspective, contraception is to be judged so profoundly unlawful as never to be, for any reason, justified. To say or think the contrary is equal to maintaining that in human life situations may arise in which it is lawful not to recognize God as God.” (JPII, September 17, 1983).
Of course NFP can be abused and used as a form of contraception. That is why it is important that it be used with a “procreative attitude.”
The right and lawful ordering of birth demands, first of all, that spouses fully recognize and value the true blessings of family life and that they acquire complete mastery over themselves and their emotions (HV, 21)
Intellectually, this is not a hard teaching to understand. The reasons for the Church’s position on contraception are based on nature and stamped right into our very bodies. The problem lies with our constant battle with concupiscence and the disordering of our desires caused by original sin. But, sexual purity is possible – it’s difficult, but it is within our reach. Though our nature is wounded and subject to temptation, Christ came into the world to free us from the slavery of sin (Romans 6:1-14) and call us to perfection (Mt. 5:48). Provided we love God enough to do His will, He will give us the strength we need to follow Him.