Making love the Catholic way 10


By Tom Quiner

The Catholic view on contraception can be perplexing to the layman.

The secular world certainly doesn’t understand it. But even evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, who agree with Church teachings on sanctity of life and marriage, can’t grasp Catholicism’s apparent animus toward artificial birth control.

A Quiner’s Diner reader expressed the issue well:

“Sometimes, though, it seems the Catholic religion takes an odd stance (on contraception) that doesn’t seem to have a biblical reason.

I am sure you could point to a passage here or there that may support your argument, but I have personally never seen one.

I think if a man and his wife want to make love without the likelihood of creating a child, that they should be able to do so without condemnation from the church.

My wife and I decided we were going to have 2 children. At the time, I think it was the right decision, because we were not making a ton of money.

Now we make a good living and I wish we had more children, but I am still happy with the ones I have. And choosing not to have more allowed my wife to finish college and allowed us to make a good living. We may foster, or even adopt. I think there are many children in America who could use a good home.”

I asked Dr. Matt Halbach, Director of the St. Joseph Educational Center in West Des Moines, IA, if he could clarify Church teaching on the subject:

“Interesting topic.

All that I would add to it is that while to many the Church appears to be attempting to control sexual behavior through its teaching against contraception, in reality it is only trying to preserve the sacredness of the sexual act, which is supposed to be uniting and fruitful.

By identifying contraception as a barrier to authentic couple intimacy, the Church is only trying to help people experience sex in its most fulfilling and meaningful (natural) form: the way God intended it to be.

And what is this way? Four words: free (uninhibited), total, faithful, fruitful love-making. In other words, no barriers. No fear. The two are free to embrace the totality of each other and face their future with a trusting confidence in each other and God.

Now, doing away with contraception is the first step to uninhibited intimacy.

What truly frees people to be themselves, to not feel like they have to protect themselves from each other or a potential child is . . . wait for it . . . marriage!

Who would have thought?

Marriage is the institution God has given us so that we can have the freedom to love (and make love) without fear. Now, of course, married couples do need to be responsible about their family planning, which is why the Church recommends various forms of NFP (Natural Family Planning).”

10 comments

      • “Be responsible about their family planning…” Some could easily take that to mean that one child is enough, and NFP could easily become the “acceptable” means of birth control and population control. I do not think that is the intention. That said, I am not suggesting that every family needs to have 10 children.

  1. Shawn:

    You write, “I also understand that contraceptive has perhaps increased extra-marital sex, because there are fewer unplanned births, so I can see the objection for using contraceptives outside of marriage.”

    A prohibition of artificial contraceptives outside marriage would be pretty pointless, since sex itself is prohibited outside marriage. : )

    By the way have you read Humanae vitae? That would seem to be the best place to start, if you want to understand the Catholic teaching on birth control. However I will take a stab at my own explanation, utilizing some of the principles set forth in HV.

    HV teaches that our bodies are not ours to do with as we please:

    “In the task of transmitting life, therefore, [married couples] are not free to proceed completely at will, as if they could determine in a wholly autonomous way the honest path to follow; **but they must conform their activity to the creative intention of God**, expressed in the very nature of marriage and of its acts, and manifested by the constant teaching of the Church.” 10

    “[J]ust as man does not have unlimited dominion over his body in general, so also, with particular reason, he has no such dominion over his generative faculties as such, because of their intrinsic ordination towards raising up life, of which God is the principle.” 13

    “[T]he Church is the first to praise and recommend the intervention of intelligence in a function which so closely associates the rational creature with his Creator; but she affirms that **this must be done with respect for the order established by God**.” 16

    Thus, regulating births per se is not wrong, but doing it in a way that disrespects “the order established by God”:

    “The Church is coherent with herself when she considers recourse to the infecund periods to be licit, while at the same time condemning, as being always illicit, the use of means directly contrary to fecundation, even if such use is inspired by reasons which may appear honest and serious. In reality, there are essential differences between the two cases; in the former, the married couple make legitimate use of a natural disposition; in the latter, they impede the development of natural processes. It is true that, in the one and the other case, the married couple are concordant in the positive will of avoiding children for plausible reasons, seeking the certainty that offspring will not arrive; but it is also true that only in the former case are they able to renounce the use of marriage in the fecund periods when, for just motives, procreation is not desirable, while making use of it during infecund periods to manifest their affection and to safeguard their mutual fidelity. By so doing, they give proof of a truly and integrally honest love.” 16

    “Consequently, if the mission of generating life is not to be exposed to the arbitrary will of men, one must necessarily recognize **insurmountable limits** to the possibility of man’s domination over his own body and its functions; limits which no man, whether a private individual or one invested with authority, may licitly surpass. And such limits cannot be determined otherwise than by the respect due to the integrity of the human organism and its functions,” 17

    “[The Church] engages man not to abdicate from his own responsibility in order to rely on **technical means**; by that very fact she defends the dignity of man and wife.” 18

    In regard to that last quote, consider the topic of overeating and weight loss: In the not-too-distant future someone may invent a fat-burning pill that actually works, that is, enables you to eat all you want and not gain weight. Now, if someone is concerned about his weight, which method should he use to control it? Should he exercise the discipline required to eat right and exercise? or should he take a pill that enables him to indulge his appetite without limit, and throw discipline out the window?

    It’s important to understand the Catholic concept of concupiscence, as one of the fruits of the Fall of Adam and Eve. Basically, concupiscence is the tendency of the desires of the flesh to exert themselves in rebellion against the mastery of the intellect and will. In our fallen state, our ability to resist these desires is compromised, and therefore we must battle against the flesh constantly. This doesn’t mean that fleshly pleasures are bad per se, but that they’re difficult to keep within proper bounds, and therefore we must practice regular discipline let they rage out of control and lead us into sin.

    It is for this reason that Pope Paul writes, “The honest practice of regulation of birth demands first of all that husband and wife acquire and possess solid convictions concerning the true values of life and of the family, and that they tend towards securing perfect **self-mastery**. To dominate instinct by means of one’s reason and free will undoubtedly requires **ascetical practices**, so that the affective manifestations of conjugal life may observe the correct order, in particular with regard to the observance of **periodic continence** [that is, abstinence from sex].” 21

    So again, it’s OK to regulate the occurrence of conception and birth, but we must do it in such a way “that the affective manifestations of conjugal life may observe the correct order” — that is, we must keep our bodily lusts in check, and not indulge them at will. This is why it’s bad to regulate births by “technical means” (see 18 above), because in relying on such means we are “abdicating our responsibility”. That is, if you can just take a pill to keep from getting fat, then your appetite for food no longer has to be kept under control; you can let it run wild and gorge yourself at will. This may work medically, but is it a good thing spiritually? By the same token, if you can just take a pill to prevent pregnancy, then your appetite for sex no longer has to be kept under control, but is free to indulge itself at will. Is this a good thing spiritually? (Has it been good for our society?)

    In summary, our bodies are not our own; we can regulate what our bodies do, but in so doing we must respect the way God made them; therefore it’s a bad idea to suppress our natural bodily functions for the purpose of enjoying bodily pleasures without consequence; rather, we should be willing to exercise discipline in eschewing bodily pleasures at some times, and enjoying them at other times, with moderation and within proper boundaries, all the while working with our bodies rather than against them, out of respect for God’s design.

    • Agellius, you gave a beautiful explanation which was clarified in that one confusing area by John. I’d like to give the bottom line. The Magisterium of the Catholic Church, which is the seat of Peter, tells us that the use of contraception is forbidden. It has never been formalized as a dogma but since the doctrine is based on dogma it is an infallible teaching, “definitive and irreformable” and must be obeyed (from the papal document Vademecum for Confessors). The reasons, and we should know them because Catholicism is a religion of faith and reason, are very well outlined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church Second Edition, but most tersely, most concisely, in one paragraph, #2366.

  2. I seem to recognize that writing… 😉

    I don’t really feel like Dr. Halbach answered my question. What is the animus towards contraceptive use by married couples? I understand that family planning CAN be used, but so can condoms or what have you.

    I also understand that contraceptive has perhaps increased extra-marital sex, because there are fewer unplanned births, so I can see the objection for using contraceptives outside of marriage.

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