4/11/2008

contra-Contraception

Well I seem to have hit upon a meaningful subject.

Some in my readership have praised my words and others have denounced them.

The understanding of those who do not embrace the Church's teaching as I do appears to be:

1. that couples who don't use contraception are irresponsible,
2. women who use NFP are baby-machines,
and 3. men who use contraception are respectful of women,
or 4. men who don't use it are disrespectful of women.

The place to begin seems to be with #2.

When I read about the process a woman's body undergoes in order to gestate a human life within her, I am simply awestruck. To describe the woman's body as a 'baby-factory' would be an understatement. Every single aspect of a woman's reproductive, muscular, hormonal, nervous, and skeletal systems is oriented towards the reproduction and sustenance of another human life.

Even before she becomes pregnant, the woman's body prepares for eventual pregnancy through an elaborate process we call menstruation. Pregnancy alone is such a complicated process that the body has to go through a 'test-run' chemically and physically and emotionally once each month, on the off-chance that in such a state of fertile readiness, the act of coitus may occur.

Women's brains are wired to perceive the needs of others first. They are far more relational and communal in their thinking than men. So, they are far more than just baby-machines: they have been ideally conditioned for the development of another human life inside of them. Every aspect of a woman's womanhood is oriented towards gestation and childbirth.

When a woman uses contraception, she is chemically altering her body to countermand this beautiful and natural and inevitable process. And she does this in order to contra- cept, to go "against life". She is, in the words of the brilliant Janet Smith, telling her lover, "I reject you. I place a barrier between us. I want your penis but not your sperm."

When a man contracepts, he says to the woman he is having sex with, "I love you, I want you-- but only this much. I don't want to generate new life with you-- I just want you for your body and the pleasure it brings to me."

In other words, the man is using the woman's body for his own ends and the woman is denying the end for which her body was made. In neither case do you have mutuality, self-respect, or love without conditions. It's bonding and intimate, but it's artificially sterile and fruitless. It seeks nothing but the satisfaction of one's libido.

God made our libido, and he understands how intensely enjoyable it is to commune with another person. It was out of such conjugality within the Trinitarian interpenetration of Persons that the Universe came into being. We are the fruit of an intense Lovemaking, so this is not foreign to God. But it's not often how we think of God.

We think of God as philosophically transcendent, remote, or too authoritarian to desire intimacy with us. Yet, God entered into a woman to demonstrate otherwise. God is consistently and insatiably desiring the most intensely passionate union we will ever know.

All we have to do is admit God on God's terms, not our own. And that requires selflessness, a death to self and ego and libido. In doing so, we will not lose our 'mojo'-- we will gain an altogether more beautiful love, one that burns with the furnace of a billion suns, one that forces flowers out of their pods and up towards the sunlight, one that melts and uplifts tectonic plates, one that thrusts comets into interstellar space and back, one that courses blood into capillaries or stirs the hatchling to break its shell.

God is very much a Supraceptor, not a contraceptor. God respects us enough to wait for our invitation. God models the very intimacy and adoration we are asked to offer in return. And that's why NFP excels. Through NFP the couple communicates about the woman's body. Her fertility is not artificially revoked, his ego is respectfully subjugated, and God is free to do as God does best: create, love, stoke.

15 comments:

Mark John said...

Those claims of the NFP detractors betray a prejudice that could only come from ignorance. The (in)famous papal encyclical that reaffirmed the Christian teaching on sexuality and human life, Humanae Vitae, speaks of the legitimate use of NFP as an exercise of "responsible parenthood," not irresponsibility. Like contraception, NFP is a method that can be used to avoid the conception of a child when there is a good reason to do so--when responsible parenthood demands it. Why single out NFP among the many methods as being irresponsible is beyond me, unless there is ignorance of what the methods of NFP involve--probably a confusion of all NFP with the "rhythm method." In a word, the argument that NFP doesn't work, but rather, undermines responsible parenthood, is ignorant of NFP methods.

Once contraception and of NFP are seen side-by-side as methods to avoiding conception when there is good reason to do so, then one can ask the question, "what methods are morally legitimate?" The problem with contraception is that it bears an uncanny resemblance to bulemia. It separates the natural end of a natural bodily act from the physical pleasure and spiritual joy of the act. Pleasure and joy are sought from the act at the same time that the natural end of that act is excluded, as if one can contravene his own nature and expect to be be fulfilled as a creature. As if one could arbitrarily determine that the natural, healthy working of his body somehow was detrimental to his spiritual well-being. But this would create a body-soul dualism that, in the end, treats our bodies as things or objects, rather than the true incarnations of our spirits, as essential to being human. Taking pills is for when we are sick, not healthy. To act otherwise cannot be for our true good, no matter what we may think.

Children are a gift, a good--not an evil to be avoided, though avoiding the act that can bring them about--a fertile sexual act--can be justifiable for serious reasons (this would be NFP). A sexual act that should naturally be a healthy fertile act, however, should not be intentionally made infertile and unhealthy (this would be contraception). One can, in a reasonable way, avoid eating if one wants to lose weight--but regurgitating ones food in order to lose weight is disordered and unhealthy.

Amy said...

What beautiful truthful and honoring words. Can I marry you yet? I agree 1000% but could never write so well of a subject so dear.

Pilgrim Scribe said...

I am in virtually complete agreement with you here as far as the proposition that natural family planning is more in tune with God's design, but I do have a few points for consideration that I would like to run by you.

1.) It is not so much the artificial barrier of a contraceptive that the Church is concerned about but a "contraceptive mentality" which consciously attempts to avoid rearing children without a good reason. So a childless couple that uses the Billings Ovulation Method (which qualifies as natural family planning) for the express purpose of avoiding children and avoiding interference with, say, their advancement at work would still be violating Catholic doctrine. On the other hand, I wonder if it is ever possible for a couple to use artificial contraceptives and yet not harbor a contraceptive mentality? I submit the following scenarios to you.

2.) In my field research here in the Philippines, where I am studying the Catholic Church and family planning, I have encountered stories about poor farmers who have far more children than they can afford to support. In one example, a farmer living on the equivalent of $14 a week had to support his wife and 13 children. In the absence of social services, they had to beg their relatives, friends and neighbors to adopt their children. While it is undoubtedly fortunate (and a testament to Filipino community values) that the children were able to benefit from the close network of personal ties that the parents could call upon, it's not clear what would have happened if the networks were not as widespread as they were. Children are an absolute good, of course, but it strikes me as irresponsible parenthood to accept another child when one clearly lacks the resources to care for him/her. In this case, natural family planning would have been helpful, but suppose that the couple in question had used a "backup" method like a condom? At this point, to have another child would place intolerable strains on their entire family. Their desire to avoid childbirth would not come from a hedonistic selfishness but instead from a real love and sense of responsibility for their family. Should we expect them to observe perpetual abstinence from then on (telling them that it is illegitimate to suggest that it is impossible as per Casti Connubii)? Is this a case of the ends of being able to support the family not justifying the means of artificial contraception or a case of choosing the lesser of two evils (bringing a child into the world that one knows one will be unable to support and who might die vs. using artificial contraception in conjunction with natural family planning)?

3.) Natural family planning only works when both husband and wife cooperate. What is a woman to do if she knows that it is inopportune to bear children (perhaps for the same reasons as the family in the above example) but her husband is coming home drunk every night and forcing her to have sex with him? In the Philippines, divorce is illegal and there are very few options for a woman who is trapped within an abusive marriage. Regardless of contraceptive use, the man is simply using his wife to satiate his carnal desires. There is no procreative consideration on his part; there isn't even a unitive act because it is not a mutual self-giving but rather a forcible taking. What is a woman in this situation to do? For that matter, what is a priest to do in a pastoral situation like this?

Apologies for the long reply, but as you can see your post sparked a lot of thought. I look forward to your response!

Nârwen said...

I agree with your post. However, a lot of women would be insulted by your statement that the female body is made for relationship. So I'm going to play devil's advocate here and bring up some objections I've heard. ......'My body is mine, and it's made for whatever I say it's made for. Anybody presuming to tell me what my own body is made for should buzz off ! Besides which, why should I care what my body is made for ? Deserts are made to be uncomfortably hot for human beings, but a lot of people live in Arizona anyway, thanks to the artificial device called air conditioning. '

Mark John said...

I would like to respond to the three points that Pilgrim Scribe has made.

1) The fact is that the Church is concerned about BOTH the contraceptive mentality and the individual act of illicit methods of contraception. There has been much magisterial ink spilled on this in the last forty years. Humanae Vitae makes it clear: "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" (Paragraph 14).

2.) With all respect and compassion for the difficult situations in which many people find themselves, a good end can never justify an evil means, nor can the principle of tolerance of the lesser of two evils be applied when the act to be undertaken is itself evil. And this (that the act of contraception is immoral) is precisely what is being taught and argued by the Church. Perhaps a careful reading of Humanae Vitae, and Familiaris Consortio (par. 28-35) would be helpful here. One of the ideas I am thinking of here is that of our eternal destiny: that because human sexuality and procreative capability is a personal--not merely biological--reality, it is tied up in the human person's orientation to eternal life, and can not be submitted merely to earthly considerations of utility, but must bring in its ultimate reference to God, whose image is revealed in natural human sexuality.
A second, and related idea, is that it is a truly odd thing to think that to deliberately frustrate through technology (not to assist) our natural bio-spiritual realities could be thought to ultimately satisfy us or be for our good. Of course, concrete situations can often make human nature a burden--sometimes we feel sunk under the weight of our humanity--but that is no reason to seek to sidestep it, but rather to live through it in faithfulness to its demands, thereby to find its true and divine meaning. In other words, God rewards faithfulness to his design, his plan. He will not abandon us to crushing calamity if, following the right way, we trust in him.

3.) As for the case of the husband who will not cooperate with NFP, I will be unable to unfold the various pastoral possibilities here. A few comments, however: the lack of recourse to divorce should not be a hinderance to a woman getting out of an abusive situation. What relevance does the proper spacing of children have in an abusive marriage? The wife needs to get out of the range of her abusive husband, not plan ahead the spacing of future children. What is a priest to do, pastorally, in such a situation? Facilitate the woman's safety and well being through the support of the larger christian community, and, if possible, reach out pastorally to the husband to seek his conversion.

Something that I think is important for anyone who has difficulty in accepting the Church's teaching on contraception, is to be aware that no one is trying to condemn those who have judged that it is OK to use contraception in their marriage, but, rather, they are seeking to show that the way that the Church, in faithfulness to the revelation of Christ on the meaning of human sexuality, wishes to draw them to understand and be faithful to a truth that brings fulfillment and happiness to those who follow it, because it is God's beautiful and loving plan for human sexuality.

Mark John said...

The last part of the last sentence in my prievious post should read thus:

...they are seeking to show that the Church, in faithfulness to the revelation of Christ on the meaning of human sexuality, wishes to draw them to understand and be faithful to a truth that brings fulfillment and happiness to those who follow it, because it is God's beautiful and loving plan for human sexuality.

Pilgrim Scribe said...

Thanks, Mark John, for your thoughtful and comprehensive comments. I’d like to try and probe this a little more, adding some more ink to the gallons that have already been spilled on the subject.

1.) The passage that you cited from HV is quite clear, I realize, but I am having trouble with the question of what constitutes “action”. If we read this literally and say that ANY action PRIOR to intercourse that is specifically intended to prevent procreation is intrinsically evil, then wouldn’t this theoretically include the systematic avoidance of intercourse during fertile days (i.e. natural family planning)? And since every sexual act must be open to procreation (and not just the totality of marriage, as Bernard Häring suggested), then a couple that practices natural family planning, even temporarily, would be in violation. They would be taking an action—the conscious decision to avoid intercourse—prior to this act of sexual intercourse to avoid procreation. Now I suspect that since NFP is very much promoted within the Catholic Church, I’m missing something, and I suspect it has to do with my definition of “action”. I would be grateful for clarification here.

2.) I must admit that I find it difficult to swallow the notion that the use of contraceptives is intrinsically evil. I fully accept the idea that contraception can be used in a way that is immoral, that facilitates promiscuity, the objectification of one’s spouse (to say nothing of facilitating sex outside marriage) and in the case of abortifacient contraceptives, murder. However, I have a difficult time equating that with a situation in which two committed spouses need to limit or space births for reasons of economic or medical hardship (rather than avoiding births altogether). The drive for sexual consummation does not necessarily arise from mere animal lust but is indeed part and parcel of a marriage. “For this reason a man leaves his mother and father and clings to his wife, and the two become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24). Similarly, Paul acknowledges the integral relationship between sex and marriage as well as the great difficulty of perpetual abstinence when he writes:

“A wife does not have authority over her own body, but rather her husband, and similarly a husband does not have authority over his own body, but rather his wife. 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. This I say by way of concession, however, not as a command. Indeed, I wish everyone to be as I am, but each has a particular gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.” (1 Corinthians 7:1-7)

So Paul notes that abstinence for extended periods of time is difficult and not for everyone, but he does not insist on perpetual abstinence for the married; quite the opposite, though his reasons are less about the need to express love for one another than the need to avoid temptation to other kinds of sin. It is also interesting to contrast this passage with Humanae Vitae section 20, which reads:

“The teaching of the Church regarding the proper regulation of birth is a promulgation of the law of God Himself. And yet there is no doubt that to many it will appear not merely difficult but even impossible to observe. Now it is true that like all good things which are outstanding for their nobility and for the benefits which they confer on men, so this law demands from individual men and women, from families and from human society, a resolute purpose and great endurance. Indeed it cannot be observed unless God comes to their help with the grace by which the goodwill of men is sustained and strengthened. But to those who consider this matter diligently it will indeed be evident that this endurance enhances man's dignity and confers benefits on human society.” (HV 20)

So whereas Paul attempts to ease the burden on the early Christian couples by instructing them not to deprive each other of the “marriage debt”, Humanae Vitae insists that couples who for whatever reason cannot have more children must resort to perpetual abstinence or natural family planning, potentially putting them in a state that Paul knew to be an occasion for sin. From Genesis and 1 Corinthians, I conclude that it is natural for a husband and wife to desire each other sexually and that it is not necessarily a good thing to place the heavy burden of perpetual abstinence on a couple. One might argue that a couple can express their love for each other in non-sexual ways. This is true, and I do not wish to suggest that sex is the only means by which spouses can express love for each other, but as Genesis notes, the mystery of becoming one flesh is a fundamental part of marriage and a result of God’s creation, and the excision of sex from marriage for whatever reason must necessarily be a grave matter.

Returning to the question of the intrinsic evil of contraception, when I was reading Humanae Vitae I was struck by the reasoning that it uses, namely, that it focuses on the potential consequences of artificial contraception (section 17) rather than on the a priori elements that would have made any act thereof illicit. Humanae Vitae cites four potential dangers:

1.) Opening the path to marital infidelity and a “general lowering of moral standards”
2.) Tempting impressionable youth into immorality.
3.) Leading the husband to treat his wife as a sexual object to be used solely for his self-gratification.
4.) Tempting governments to integrate artificial contraception into draconian population control programs such as China’s One-Child Policy.

All these consequences are indisputably evil, yet each is also contingent upon the context in which the person commits the action, including the intent of the actor. A man who uses artificial contraception to abet an adulterous affair has already made the decision to have that affair in the first place long before putting on a condom. Perhaps the availability of a contraceptive may have made that decision easier for him to make, and perhaps his use of a contraceptive during sex with his wife made him see women as sex objects, but I would find it hard to swallow the notion that the use of contraceptives was solely or even largely responsible for tempting him to adultery. I would submit that his use of contraceptives was gravely disordered, not because the contraceptives were evil, but because the manner in which he intended to use them was immoral. Not every man who uses a condom during sex with his wife goes out and has an affair or even contemplates one, nor do all women who use birth control pills suddenly become sex objects in the eyes of their husbands. The reason is that relationships between husbands and wives are a union of sexual AND non-sexual interactions. A man who truly loves his wife is not going to suddenly treat her as a sex object because he knows that she is far more than that. Put crudely, people in love just don't throw out the richness of their relationships so easliy. So these arguments that contraception is evil because of its consequences don’t lend support to the notion that contraception is intrinsically evil, meaning that regardless of the consequences, contraception is wrong.

I guess what I am trying to say is that there seems to be a scale of wrongness. I am fairly certain that the man who uses contraceptives to hide an adulterous affair is committing a far more egregious wrong than the couple that has been married for 20 years, has successfully raised 4 children and decides to use artificial contraception in conjunction with natural family planning because the wife is medically unfit to have another child. In an ideal world, there should be no need for contraceptives. Every child would be wanted; every child could be given all that they require for a life abundantly full of God’s gifts, and married couples could freely express their love spontaneously and genuinely, whether through sexual or non-sexual means. Yet we live in a broken world and we struggle to look through that dark mirror to discern God’s will. In my own struggle to understand the problems ordinary Catholics face, this is what I see so far. Perhaps that will evolve as I get older, but right now, I am having problems accepting this teaching in its entirety.

SWP said...

I have to second #1 on pilgrimscribe's latest post.

I think the Church's preference would be that we let God do the family planning, but NFP is better because it's a natural way that works in cooperation with the human body rather than chemically altering it.

And the Church is respecting the fact that a couple may at times need to exercise prudence while still fully consummating, which is the goal of marriage. So NFP is seen as a prudential option for those who can't support a child yet.

But again, ideally a couple would never even use NFP because they would always leave themselves open to God's plan for their lives.

I would like to hear Mark's response though.

Pilgrim Scribe said...

I think that SWP's post may have helped clarify a point for me. SWP writes, "...ideally a couple would never even use NFP because they would always leave themselves open to God's plan for their lives." As I thought about this, I began to wonder about whether or not this statement sets up a false dichotomy between openness to God's will and the use of human reason. Catholic teaching extols the unity of "fides et ratio" rather than a choice between faith OR reason, so that suggests to me that it is not necessarily good to simply let each child be an accident. If you can support the children, then by all means, have more children if you believe that God is calling you there, but if by having another child you are literally starving yourself and your other children--as is the case with many impoverished families here in the Philippines--I find it difficult to believe that God would will that situation.

Let me rephrase my point: what does it mean when we say that we should let God do the family planning (as opposed to ourselves)? Does this mean that we abandon rationality? I suspect that natural family planning may be permissible because it requires rational thought in the context of discerning God's will. In this case, rational thought is an instrument of discernment and not a priori in opposition to God. Abandoning our rationality to some vague notion that whatever happens is God's will can lead us to a dangerous kind of fatalism. Sometimes God calls us to go with the flow and accept our fate, but sometimes God also calls us to take action and to change our thinking, which requires that we use our reason.

Mark John said...

Pilgrim scribe, thank you for responding. I'll see if I can clarify the issue a bit more.

In response to your points:

1) Concerning the quote from Humanae Vitae #14 ("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"), you said: "If we read this literally and say that ANY action PRIOR to intercourse that is specifically intended to prevent procreation is intrinsically evil, then wouldn’t this theoretically include the systematic avoidance of intercourse during fertile days (i.e. natural family planning)?"

It would seem so, if you take the sentence absolutely literally, and out of the context of the rest of the encyclical. But no one could reasonably argue that Paul VI was excluding methods of Natural Family Planning here, because in the same encyclical he explicitly affirms the legitimacy of recourse to the infertile periods when done for serious reasons. A more precise way, then, to say what we already know Paul VI intended, would be to say, "similarly excluded is every action which, either 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." In avoiding conception through natural family planning, the couple is not rendering procreation impossible, nor impeding procreation per se, because the sexual act has already been made infertile by God who created a woman's cycles of fertility.

And so it is not your understanding of the word "action" that is at fault here, but rather your understanding of what could be meant by the word "prevent." In the context of the encyclical, it is clear that what is meant by "to prevent procreation" (the latin: ut procreatio impediatur - "so that procreation is impeded") is limited to prevention of the procreative capability of sexual acts that may be fertile. Again, the choice to abstain from fertile acts and make use of infertile ones does not prevent procreative capability, but makes use of what is already, by nature, the case.

Further, you said:
"And since every sexual act must be open to procreation... then a couple that practices natural family planning, even temporarily, would be in violation."

I can understand how one could have this idea, especially in light of what I said above.
It could sound as if the Church's teaching here contradicts nature. How can a non-fertile act be open to procreation?
In the sense that the Church proposes for belief, this means simply what was said above, that the couple must not deliberately frustrate any procreative capability that their sexual act may have. It does not mean that the couple may not, in choosing to engage in sexual intercourse at a specific time, intend to avoid children, nor does it mean that every sexual act is, in fact, fertile.

2)
You say that you have difficulty swallowing the idea that the use of contraceptives is intrinsically immoral/evil.

One of your reasons:
"I have a difficult time equating [selfish uses of contraception] with a situation in which two committed spouses need to limit or space births for reasons of economic or medical hardship."

I have a difficult time equating them, too, for they are not the same. The church's teaching that contraception is immoral does not require us to equate them, for one involves bad means and bad ends. The other involves bad means and good ends. But for an act to be good/moral, both the ends and the means need to be good, or at least neutral.

Next, you compare Saint Paul and Pope Paul VI concerning the question of sexual abstinence for the married: "So whereas Paul attempts to ease the burden on the early Christian couples by instructing them not to deprive each other of the “marriage debt”, Humanae Vitae insists that couples who for whatever reason cannot have more children must resort to perpetual abstinence or natural family planning, potentially putting them in a state that Paul knew to be an occasion for sin."
I am not able to understand why you bring in "perpetual abstinence" here, for Paul VI does not refer to it in the quote you gave, nor does he refer to it in the whole of Humanae Vitae. The methods of NFP do not require perpetual abstinence, but only abstinence during the fertile times. In the quote from 1 Corinthians that you gave, Saint Paul advises couples not to abstain from sex for too long, to avoid temptation, and he also gives prayer as a reason that the couple might use for abstaining for a time. NFP involves abstaining from sex for a time so as to avoid untimely pregnancy. There is no contradiction between St. Paul and Pope Paul here.

In connection with this you argue that sexual desire in marriage is natural and good, using Genesis 1 as evidence.
You say:
"The drive for sexual consummation does not necessarily arise from mere animal lust but is indeed part and parcel of a marriage."
You are absolutely right in all this. But the Church's teaching does not deny this, but in fact teaches the great importance of conjugal love and the value of sexual intercourse as the union in love into one flesh. The church just sees both the procreative and unitive aspects of sex as needing to be preserved in every act, arguing that the two cannot be opposed to one another.

I will address your final points in a separate post....

SWP said...

I think Mark would agree with you, PilgrimScribe, that we should not abandon rationality. That was his response in person to my question.

He said to be careful about discouraging people from the Church's teaching by calling them to abandon rationality.

But I'm quite content to accept that if the Pope says NFP is okay and the Pill is not, even though they seem to do the same thing, then so be it.

I know that there are rational arguments that make it clear why NFP is not the same as the Pill (which Mark has ably delineated here in the comments) and therefore one can have a more rational basis than, "The Pope said no to this and yes to this" to arrive at the right decision.

But I'm content with the Pope's fiat. I embrace it. I wish that more people would abandon themselves trustingly to the Pope, to the Lord, to Divine Providence. I don't think that's fatalism. I think it's honest, real, and very sound.

Couples will encounter periods in which abstinence is unaviodable and their acceptance of this will only lead to greater virtue. Inability to support a child is a good reason to embrace voluntary abstinence until such time as the situation improves. This assumes a life of prayer and a spirit of detachment, which are open to the poor and rich alike.

If our focus is prayerful abandonment, then the concerns of the world will not prevail over our love of Jesus. And so many things will cease to be impediments, but will instead become gifts. The Pope is not saying "no"-- he's saying "yes" to so much more. It's we who have to set our compass aright, not the Pope. Not the Lord.

Mark John said...

continued from previous post...


Pilgrim Scribe,

Next, you argue that the reasons given in Humanae Vitae for the immorality of contraception have to do with extrinsic consequences, and not the act per se, and conclude, "These arguments that contraception is evil because of its consequences don’t lend support to the notion that contraception is intrinsically evil."
You are of course, right in your conclusion.
But the consequences you cite (from section 17) are expresely given so that "Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue." In other words, they are not meant to establish the truth of the Church's teaching, but to support it.
More importantly, however, these reasons from section 17 are not the only reasons given in the encyclical. Other reasoning, concerning what is intrinsic to the act itself, is made especially in sections 12 and 13, which are immediately followed in section 14 ("Therefore...") with the condemnation of direct abortion, direct sterilization, and contraception.
Here are the relevant passages:
Section 12 - "the fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life—and this as a result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman. And if each of these essential qualities, the unitive and the procreative, is preserved, the use of marriage fully retains its sense of true mutual love and its ordination to the supreme responsibility of parenthood to which man is called. We believe that our contemporaries are particularly capable of seeing that this teaching is in harmony with human reason."
Section 13 - "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. "Human life is sacred—all men must recognize that fact," Our predecessor Pope John XXIII recalled. "From its very inception it reveals the creating hand of God.""

While this argument, as stated, may have needed expansion by others to be more convincing, it is a real argument--in this case, an argument from natural law. And it does involve what is intrinsic to the act itself, not the consequences. The act of contraception, no matter what the circumstances surrounding it, or the consequences, is contrary to natural law, because it is the deliberate frustration of the procreative meaning of the sexual act.

------------------------

"I guess what I am trying to say is that there seems to be a scale of wrongness...."

There is, of course, a "scale of wrongness." As you say, a man who uses contraception to aid an adulterous affair is certainly doing a greater wrong than a couple who after having four children uses contraception together with NFP because the wife is medically unfit to have another child. But that doesn't change the fact that both uses of contraception are wrong--they are just wrong to different degrees. Neither should be permitted.

------------------------

The above should clarify the matter more for you. But perhaps my response raised more questions as well. In that case, ask away.

In any event, I think that the issue of a correct anthropology, which I referred to in a previous post, is of utmost importance in this issue. What does the belief that the use of contraceptives is morally licit say about our understanding of the human person? Can the natural, healthy working of our body ever be ultimately bad for us? Can we choose to deliberately frustrate the natural and healthy working of our bodies and expect to be ultimately fulfilled as human persons? Do our bodies participate in our personhood or are they enemies of our fulfillment as persons? If a man can deliberately frustrate his fertility and think it good, can he also deliberately cripple himself and think it good?
Either of these may be for one's temporary good, but not for his true, spiritual good, because God endowed his nature with transcendent meanings. Again, sometimes we feel very burdened under the weight of our humanity, but that doesn't justify us seeking to get out of it, but faithfulness to it, with the help of God, must lead us to understand and find fulfillment in its deeper meanings.

Mark John said...

As SWP said, I would agree with Pilgrim Scribe's last post.

As rational creatures, we are to freely and rationally direct ourselves responsibly according to the will of God, and right reason is not opposed to but in union with the will of God.

Pilgrim Scribe said...

Thank you very much, Mark John and SWP, for your lucid and comprehensive comments. Just a quick point of clarification, what I meant by "perpetual abstinence" is the scenario in which a couple absolutely cannot afford to have another child or they will literally starve (this is sadly not uncommon in the Philippines). You are absolutely right in that NFP is not equal to perpetual abstinence, but NFP does not always have a 100 percent success rate, and there is always room for human error. So if the situation is so dire that another child would drive the family into abject poverty, then perpetual abstinence is the only surefire way.

At the end of the day, I understand the Church's position and why it must take the stance it does. One of my interviewees, a priest who is also a bioethicist, said that people fall short of the standard set by the Church for all sorts of reasons, some of them more well-intentioned than others, but the Church's role is not to lower the bar but rather to help people meet that standard. The assessment of how well they're doing that seems to vary, even among my interviewees who are clergy, but most seem to concur that the Church needs to do a better job teaching NFP methods as an alternative to artificial contraception. This seems to be borne out by the statistic that less than 0.5% of married Filipina women aged 15-49 use a "modern" form of NFP (i.e. not "rhythm" or "calendar" methods) as opposed to 48% who use either a traditional or folk method or an artificial contraceptive method (See Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, "Mainstreaming Natural Family PLanning in Ipil Prelature" in "A Balancing Act: Social and Catholic Perspectives on Population and Development", 2006)

Now, of course, my mind is starting to race because I'm thinking of Catholic teachings that HAVE changed over time, such as the teaching usury or the teaching on religious freedom. Perhaps I may need to add another comparative chapter to my dissertation...

Many thanks for your patient and comprehensive comments!

Mark John said...

Pilgrim Scribe, I'm glad to have been helpful with my comments.

I agree with the priest-bioethicist you interviewed--this issue cannot be budged on. Sometimes following God's will requires heroic virtue, like, for example, the call to martyrdom. For many, there is no surefire way to save one's life and still confess Christ as Lord. And yet, for those who fail, the Church remains compassionate.

Will the teaching change? Could it? I don't believe it can. It takes more than the simple observation that certain teachings have changed to conclude that another one also could. They each have to be considered individually--in what way did they change? What was really essential? What happened when historical situations changed and the teaching was challenged? What kind of clarifications were made by the magisterium? What emerged as being essential in the teaching?

Thanks for your probing comments and questions.

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