A Look at Some Biblical Texts in Opposition to Contraception

041713In the following post I seek to lay out a few of the biblical texts related to the Church teaching against contraception.  This is not a post intended to give a full defense of the teaching against contraception. I have done that elsewhere, e.g. HERE & HERE & HERE

This post is intended only to set for the kind of biblical logic and background for the teaching which comes to us from antiquity. In fact, no Christian denomination prior to 1930 ever taught the contraception was anything but sinful. The first denomination to depart from this received teaching was the Anglicans,  who at the 1930 Lambeth conference set aside more than 5000 years of Jewish and Christian wisdom and embraced the modern contraceptive notion that there is no necessary connection between procreation and sex. One by one the other Protestant denominations fell, such that today, only Catholic and Orthodox Christians, as well as some Orthodox Jews, are left holding the light of ancient antiquity.

These biblical texts display that ancient and beautiful light which reverences and rejoices in new human life, and with God seeks to diffuses this blessed gift far and wide. It is a light which sees human life as a blessing, not a burden, as full of hope, rather than simply being a hardship.

Some proponents of contraception declare that the Bible has little or nothing to say about contraception. And to some extent, they are right. Contraception just wasn’t part of the biblical worldview. People then, loved children, and wanted many. Barrenness was a curse. Fertility, pregnancy, and childbearing were some of life’s greatest blessings. Why would the Bible speak extensively about something that wasn’t even going on?   In a certain sense, the Bible’s relative silence on this matter, should shame And startle us, showing how far we have departed from the Biblical norms, and worldview.  To a large degree the texts that follow show us how steep has been our fall, and how deep the darkness has become.

Let us then looked at these lightsome texts that show for the biblical case against the contraceptive mentality. The texts are in bold black and italic, in my own comments are in plain red text.

Genesis 1:27-28 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.

And thus, having established marriage, God gives them their primary directive, “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it!” It is clear, the God loves human life, and is eager to see this first couple not merely replace themselves, but to multiply, yes,  to fill the whole earth. 

God is love, and seeks to share his love and diffuse it far and wide. God loves life, especially human life. Here then is a great testimony of the sacredness in the beauty of human life,  in the God’s joy at the existence of every human person, and his eagerness to see human life growing and prospering.

It is true, that in biblical history, God will sometimes have to prune, and discipline the magnificent vine he has planted. But His most fundamental demeanor is for life and if he does punish or prune, it is only to foster better growth.

How different is God’s expressed mentality from our own modern mentality, which often sees human life as a problem, which frets over apparent overpopulation (a common modern myth we have discussed. More of that, here Are We Really Overpopulated?). How peevish, how small, and selfish we moderns have become, thinking that every new human life somehow gobbles up resources that I would rather have for myself. There’s little sense of God’s expansive providence or bounty. Having largely dismissed God for our culture, there is no one to trust.  And thus we worry of our own resources. 

Yes, we are very far from God’s hopeful and joyful proclamation to be fruitful and multiply. Everywhere birthrates are plummeting, our social networks are failing, economies are stagnating, and our selfishness turns back to bite us. To the modern contraceptive mentality God has one thing to say, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Fruitful, faithful and full families are the answer.

Exodus 23:25-26 Worship the Lord your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you, and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span.

Note that, listed among the top blessings of God, is the fruitful womb.  Notice here that God ties it to the blessing of food and water and a fruitful land. We moderns tend to oppose these concepts. Thomas Malthus this and other Malthusian doomsayers have long predicted that we would not be able to produce enough food to feed an increasing population. Time and time again they have been proved wrong.

But note too, they do not have God in mind when they think this way. They think only of diminishing human capacities, but not of God. For a believer, the same God who produces the fruit of the womb, can also bring greater abundance to the land.  What seculars separate God joins.  God never fails, He sends life, he sends resources.

That there are famines in the land at all this due more to human greed and selfishness. There’s more than enough food in this world, food in abundance. Sadly, in this country we pay farmers not to plant since food is so abundant, it is cheap and has a low profit margin.  In other parts of the world, where famines do sometimes occur, We have food to send them but, corruption and war make it difficult to get the food to them.

Deuteronomy 7:12-14 If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the Lord your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your ancestors. He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb….You will be blessed more than any other people; none of your men or women will be childless, nor will any of your livestock be without young.

See that children in abundance are considered a great blessing from the Lord.  Israel will be blessed more than any other nation with many, many children. How different this mentality is from the modern contraceptive age, anxious of of overpopulation even as we close schools see our populations age.

Psalm 127:3-5 Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.

Psalm 128:1-4 Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him. You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Yes, this will be the blessing for the man who fears the Lord.

Again, something of a striking contrast to modern times is expressed in these Psalms. In the biblical world, children are very great blessing, they are to be desired in great numbers.  Oh the blessing of a fruitful life! Oh, to have many children like arrows in a quiver, like fruitful olive plants around the table. The joy of new life in abundance. Such a blessing to be sought! 

Compare this to the modern disdain, even scoffing and harsh criticism for any family that dares to have more than two children. Yes there is even a kind of dismay over how someone can possibly enjoy life with “so many children!

1 Chronicles 25:5 Bukkiah, Mattaniah, Uzziel, Shubael and Jerimoth; Hananiah, Hanani, Eliathah, Giddalti and Romamti-Ezer; Joshbekashah, Mallothi, Hothir and Mahazioth. All these were sons of Heman the king’s seer. They were given him through the promises of God to exalt him. God gave Heman fourteen sons and three daughters.

1 Chronicles 26:4-5 Obed-Edom also had sons: Shemaiah the firstborn, Jehozabad the second, Joah the third, Sakar the fourth, Nethanel the fifth, Ammiel the sixth, Issachar the seventh and Peullethai the eighth. For God had blessed Obed-Edom.

See in both these passages what a blessing it is considered for these two families to have so many children. One has 17 children, another 8. Apparently these ancient Jews never got the memo that these children are going to “be a burden and inhibit the enjoyment of life’s pleasures.”  Many moderns would consider such a family size to be downright irresponsible. Thus what the Bible calls light, the modern world calls darkness, and what God calls blessed the world calls burdensome.

Hosea 9:10-17 When I found Israel, it was like finding grapes in the desert; when I saw your ancestors, it was like seeing the early fruit on the fig tree. But when they came to Baal Peor, they consecrated themselves to that shameful idol and became as vile as the thing they loved. Ephraim’s glory will fly away like a bird— no birth, no pregnancy, no conception. Even if they rear children, I will bereave them of every one. Woe to them when I turn away from them! I have seen Ephraim, like Tyre, planted in a pleasant place. But Ephraim will bring out their children to the slayer.” What will you give them LORD? Give them wombs that miscarry and breasts that are dry. “Because of all their wickedness in Gilgal, I loathed them there. Because of their sinful deeds…. Even if they bear children, I will slay their cherished offspring.” My God will reject them because they have not obeyed him; they will be wanderers among the nations.

Here is, our first dark passage. In effect, due to her infidelity of sleeping with other gods, Israel will lose for a time her fruitfulness. Embracing the darkness of idolatry and turning away from the light of God, Israel has sinned mightily, even going so far as to offer her children in sacrifice to the Canaanite gods.

If Israel will desecrate life and treat it as fodder for false gods, her punishment is that she will not be blessed with life at all. The punishment ancient Israel my have considered among the worst punishments of all, God decrees, namely, that at least for a time their wombs will be barren and their breasts dry.

And what of us, in the decadent West who have also turned to the dark side, offering our children, through abortion, in sacrifice to the false goddess of sex and the false god of greed.  What of us who no longer love life?

In effect, God says fine,  you will not have it. And thus, in many places the birth rates of some of the most decadent populations has gotten that they risk nonexistence. God’s message is clear, that we should love life, seek to foster its growth, and treat all human life as sacred.

Genesis 38:6-10 Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also.

The word “contraception,” is a modern word. The biblical word, and the word used by Christian antiquity to describe what we moderns call “contraception” is Onanism. The word comes from this passage wherein Onan “spills his seed on the ground” and God kills him for it.  

Some argue it was the breaking of the Levirite Law that was wicked and thus God slew Onan. But if this is so, why were his brothers, who did the same not killed by God? Onan is uniquely killed by God for the unique thing he did, namely spilling his seed on the ground.

Further, death is not the prescribed penalty for breaking this Law (a custom really): For we read in Deuteronomy 25:5-10 of the true penalty for breaking this law: If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel. However, if a man does not want to marry his brother’s wife, she shall go to the elders at the town gate and say, “My husband’s brother refuses to carry on his brother’s name in Israel. He will not fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to me.” Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists in saying, “I do not want to marry her,” his brother’s widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, “This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother’s family line.” That man’s line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled.

Hence the sin of Onan for which he is killed is not the non-observance of the Levirite duty, but of spilling his semen on the ground. Ancient moral manuals until 20th Century see the sin here for what it si and thus termed what we call today “contraception” as Onanism.

Luke 23:28-31 A large number of people followed him (on the way to Golgotha), including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then “ ‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!” ’ For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

Here is a stunning passage where the Lord Jesus points to a time that would be so dark and miserable, that people would actually say “Blessed are the wombs that never bore, and the breast that never nursed.

While some argue that he was speaking of the events of 70 A.D., Scriptural texts which may have historical references, also point beyond themselves and the first Century. And the Lord’s words also prophetically describe our times, when so many say “Blessed are the wombs that are barren, that are sterilized, blessed are the breast that never nursed.”

The Lord is saying that times can get so dark that people actually think like this. So, welcome to the dark times of the 20th and 21st centuries where people are terrified of children, fear fertility, and call God’s greatest blessings a burden.

The Lord tells us to weep regarding times like these, times which get so dark that God’s blessings are perceived as burdens. Yes weep for times like these when contraception is held out as a virtue, when being against what God is for, is called good and responsible.  Weep for yourselves says the Lord and weep for the few children you do have. For in sowing the wind, you are reaping the whirlwind.

The following texts all center on the use of the Greek word “Pharmakeia” which many (rightly argue) is associated with, among other things contraceptive and abortafacient drugs used among prostitutes and libertines in Greek culture. Hence in the passages that follow I indicate the Greek term in the body of the scriptural text and then comment on it below the three passages.

Galatians 5:19-20 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and sorcery ( φαρμακεία (pharmakeia); hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Revelation 9:20-21 The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts  (φαρμάκων (pharmakon)), their sexual immorality or their thefts.

Rev 21:8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts  (φαρμάκοις (pharmakois)), the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

In each of these texts the word φαρμακεία (pharmakeia) is used. It is from pharmakeuo (where we get the word pharmacy) meaning the use of medicines or potions, drugs or spells. Such drugs where often used by sorcerers to induce ecstatic states. But pharmakeia were also used by prostitutes and libertines to suppress fertility and to induce abortion. 

Some will argue that pharmakoi can refer to a wide variety of things, and while many modern translators prefer to couch their use in witchcraft and magic arts, note that each time the reference to pharmakoi is made in the verses above, it is in a verse that also directly references sexual immorality. Hence the more ancient manner or seeing them as references to contraceptives and abortafacients seems more plausible.

Here then is a setting forth of the Biblical logic against contraception. We can see, in reading texts like these how 180 degrees out of phase the modern world is with the biblical wisdom, a wisdom that loves life and seeks this gift in abundance. We moderns, despite, or on account of our affluence, fear life, and see children as a threat to our enjoyment of “better things.” Perhaps it is best to end with the advice of the Lord, “Weep for yourselves and your (few) children.”

We are a sad and shrinking lot from any biblical perspective.

33 Replies to “A Look at Some Biblical Texts in Opposition to Contraception”

  1. Coincidentally, I was just reflecting on some of these verses last night, because I was planting cucumber seeds and flower seeds, to give them a head start for planting in my garden. I was admiring the variety of the seeds in my hand (2 varieties of cucumbers and 3 varieties of marigolds, 4 varieties of zinnias), and I was very careful not to drop any of the seeds because – 1) that would be wasteful and 2) every seed is a potential plant that will bless my family with food and/or beauty.

    I was thinking of scriptures, and asking myself the sense of taking handfuls of these seeds and letting them fall to the ground over and over, unplanted. All I could think of was incredible waste, ingratitude and ignorance. Truly we are a people who know not what we do.

  2. “We can see, in reading texts like these how 180 degrees out of phase the modern world is with the biblical wisdom”.

    How true.

    There is an excellent essay by Rod Dreher that was published last week. While ostensibly about gay marriage, it concerns the broader issue of how modern sexual immorality is so out of sync with Biblical sexual morality. He also puts some of the blame on us. He says, I think quite compellingly, that traditional Christians are losing the culture war because we have not framed the terms of the battle properly. The fundamental ordering of modern society is wrong and needs to change radically:

    “They [traditional Christians] don’t grasp that Christianity, properly understood, is not a moralistic therapeutic adjunct to bourgeois individualism…but is radically opposed to the cultural order (or disorder) that reigns today.”

    What I think Dreher is driving at is that we need to reject modern liberal individualism altogether and develop strong Christian communities. We need to create a way of living that is completely different from that of modern life. In some ways, this is why Muslim evangelization has been so successful in recent years – Islam offers a complete system of life that, in some ways, represents a more attractive alternative to the spiritual emptiness of modern life.

    I think this is important for the New Evangelization. We need to do much more than just tell people they are living an immoral life and are going to hell unless they change. That approach will not yield much fruit. Rather, we need to propose a radically different way of living together communally with socially enforced moral norms. This will allow Christians to be a true “sign of contradiction”, as Benedict XVI suggested. Perhaps we need to try to create more places like Ave Maria, Florida.

    Rod Dreher’s essay is here. I strongly recommend it:


  3. Sorry, I meant to refer to Blessed John Paul II as the author of the “sign of contradiction”, not B16.

  4. Msgr.,

    You preach it! You are a master theologian! I think every priest should have a blog of their own if they are too afraid to preach uncomfortable subjects during the homily. We can turn this culture around by using the Internet, I hope!

  5. I posted these recently on http://www.protectthepope.com

    Is it possible that the reason why contraception and artificial human reproduction aren’t explicitly forbidden by any of the Ten Commandments is that they are so heinous as to be unspeakable even by God Himself?

    They go beyond violation of the First Commandment. They subvert the factual reason why God alone is Lord: He alone is the Creator of every human being. What is human fertility but the power to create a human being? And to whom could such a power belong save to God alone?

    Contraception violates not only the Sixth Commandment, but also the First. Not only does it violate the First Commandment, contraception and artificial reproduction connote an attempt on the Divine Sovereignty itself: a crime analogous to the treason of compassing the death or overthrow of the King.

    There’s a further point. If it were licit to make a human being (as is done in every artificial procedure) then the fertility technician would be the rightful owner of that human being according to the principle that, if a man makes something, then he owns it.

    Louise Brown, the first ‘test-tube baby’, was made by Dr Patrick Steptoe and Professor Robert Edwards. If they acted licitly in making her, then she is both a person and a hereditament belonging in equal shares to their respective deceased estates.

    This from lifesitenews.com

    “In his [Professor Edwards’] hands, science was an attack upon the Christian world view. In 2003 he told the London Times: “[IVF] was a fantastic achievement, but it was about more than infertility. It was also about issues like stem cells and the ethics of human conception. I wanted to find out exactly who was in charge, whether it was God himself or whether it was scientists in the laboratory.”

    And what he discovered was that “It was us.”

  6. I think about the publication of Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI. Wow. That to me is like when the Jews found the forgotten book of the law when they were cleaning the Temple.

  7. Adding the more commonly known phrases as well:
    Choose life!
    Thou shalt not kill.
    The latter would apply to all people, not just those outside the womb because the Bible speaks of babies inside the womb as persons. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you …”

    Thank you for all these passages and your teaching. The eighth station of the Cross always makes me cry because it points to our times.

  8. Msgr Pope, thank you for this. Your honesty on this subject is a wonderful gift, especially for young people who are trying to understand the Catholic way to think about marriage and children.

    I’m 28 years old, and have been married a little less than 4 years. I want to share part of my story in case it helps anyone else. When my husband & I were doing marriage prep, our local pastor was completely silent on tough moral issues like contraception. He seemed embarrassed to even talk about it. Lots of other Catholics acted like individuals had the right to decide this issue for themselves. We weren’t sure what to think about it. Through some Google searching, we found Humanae Vitae and writings from Fulton Sheen such as his book “Three to Get Married,” which we bought and read together. We realized many of our assumptions about marriage were wrongheaded. It was particularly hard for us to overcome the cultural belief that contraception was a good thing. “Planning pregnancy” sounded like prudence to us. Initially we thought the Church’s teachings on contraception were hard and unrealistic, but, we also saw that the Church hadn’t left it “up to us” to decide when and whether to use contraception. Contraception was forbidden, period, and we were being called to obey. So, even though we had some fears about doing so, we did obey this teaching from day one of our marriage.

    We conceived our first child on our honeymoon; based on the birth date, she was probably conceived on our wedding night. I remember feeling totally overwhelmed when I got the positive pregnancy test. We hadn’t even finished moving in together, and we were already going to have a baby! Two weeks later, I found out my job was being cut in corporate downsizing. I was puking from the pregnancy hormones and felt sick pretty much all the time. I felt upset about everything, and somewhat resentful of how things were unfolding. This sure didn’t seem like the way *I* would have planned the first few weeks of marriage. Then I saw my tiny baby on an ultrasound, and I my first twinge of joy about the pregnancy. Shortly after that, I got an unexpected job opportunity and a big financial break. None of this, good or bad, was due to my own planning.

    About halfway through my pregnancy, I caught the swine flu. I was so sick I could barely get out of bed. Around the same time, a pregnant friend also caught that awful virus. The high fever caused her to miscarry at the end of her first trimester. After she told me about it, I considered that if I’d gotten to have *my* timing with the pregnancy, perhaps our child would have died in utero too At this thought, I didn’t just cry — I wept. Through all these experiences, I felt as though God was telling me, “You might not always understand my wisdom, but you need to stop trying to control everything. Let go, and trust me.” We named our first child “Sophia Christina” meaning “wisdom, follower of Christ.”

    Based on our first experience with pregnancy, I assumed we’d have another child on the way soon after my fertility returned. But, more than a year passed without a second pregnancy. We felt that we wanted another child, and eventually we thought, well, maybe we should be proactive. I started tracking my fertility closely. More time passed without a positive pregnancy test. The first time, I hadn’t wanted a child right away, but got one. Now, I was in a place where I wanted another child so bad it hurt, but seemingly couldn’t have one. Sophia’s second birthday came — Easter Sunday. I knelt and prayed before mass. Looking up at Christ crucified with tears in my eyes, I told God I was sorry I had not rejoiced when I learned of my first child. I asked Him to forgive me for that, and to please give us the gift of another child. He answered my prayers. Our second child was conceived a week later, on Divine Mercy Sunday. I didn’t know much about the feast of Divine Mercy until last year. Now I’ll never forget it, because God gave us a tremendous gift that day. We named our son “Paul Gabriel,” after two bringers of Good News.

    We brought Paul to the baptismal font on Easter Sunday this year. We decided to have him baptized at the Mass that is most heavily attended by twice-a-year Catholics. We wanted the whole community to see a young family standing there at the baptismal font, celebrating the gift of a new life. Yes, life is a gift. It is not our prerogative to control it. It is also not sensible to be fearful of a little tiny baby. Parenthood is hard, but children are wonderful, and a new child is cause for real celebration. It took me two pregnancies to totally get my head around that. I’m sure there will be more lessons in the years ahead. But, I hope my sharing these experiences will be helpful to someone out there.

  9. The only flaw in the case for large families is that, here in the United Kingdom, jobs that pay enough and are stable enough to enable a man to marry and to found and build a family are as scarce as hen’s teeth. See how things are here:


    Even though we’re not overpopulated in the sheer physical sense of the term, we are overpopulated in the sense that mass unemployment is a permanent feature of the labour market. We simply can’t create enough jobs for everyone, let alone enough of them to deliver a family wage, and certainly not to our young people.

    In a society of high moral character, young men who could not command a family wage would abstain from marriage and reproduction. As it is, the rich have cornered the best part of the nation’s wealth for themselves, while among the poor marriage has collapsed, but reproduction hasn’t.

  10. Monsignor Pope,

    What is your opinion of Natural Family Planning? Is it an accepted method to space the births of children apart or is it “Catholic contraception”? Seems to me Catholics used to accept the children they had as the blessings from God that they are, but now we determine how many children we have and fail to trust in God.

    1. NFP is not “Catholic contraception” for the simple reason that it is self evidently not contraception. NFP is to refrain from having sexual intercourse during periods of time that a woman is known to be fertile. As Catholic tradition has made clear and Human Vitae explicitly states it is perfectly ok for a moral married couple to limit the marriage act ( as they used to say) to periods of time in which conceiving a child is unlikely. There are a large variety of reasons why one may due this. ( a desire to space children, to limit the number of children that the couple feels they can responsibly care for, reasons of maternal health, couples are given very large latitude in this sort of thing.) Even however in the speculative case that the couple was doing it for reasons that were felt to be “wrong” ( they were say against having children because they thought it better to become independently wealthy and did not want to have someone else to take care of) To the extent there is a sin it would not be “contraception” but rather a sin involving selfishness, or violating some other virtue. Contraception involves interfering with the marriage act so as to make it infertile.

      Some traditionalist type Catholics who have gone off the rails continue to link NFP with contraception. This is wrong and needlessly troubles consciences in an area that obeying the Church teaching can be difficult enough. As a bit of a traditionalist myself I can sometimes see were some of the NFP teachers and advocates speak in a style that is a bit too much “happy clappy” Catholic. As a bit of a traditionalist myself I can understand how some of my brethren over here on the right do not particular care for some of the language and approaches used by some ( not all) of the professional NFP advocates.. but this is really a stylistic issue and not a moral one. Recall what ST Paul said about not making an issue of something that is morally trivial but more of a personal taste issue. IT is a good think to learn about NFP or find a reasonably knowledgeable Catholic medical professional to discuss with ( although the later can be challenging may be well worth it)

      1. Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii: (1931)

        “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 powers 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 offspring is prevented.’ Onan, the son of Judah, did
        this and the Lord killed him for it (Gen. 38:8-10).
        “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 offence
        against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with
        the guilt of a grave sin.”

        It seems Pope Pius XI believed any attempt to frustrate the marital act is sinful. If we separate “Traditional” Catholic teaching with Post Vatican II teaching, then we have to admit the Council in fact created a new Church. I am not saying this is the sentiment you are expressing, mdepie, but in these days we are filled with so much confusion due to the lack of clarity in the current praxis in the Church.

        1. NFP does NOT involve deliberate frustration of the marital act. The way one avoids pregnancy with NFP is by not having intercourse. The Virgin Mary abstained from intercourse for her entire marriage. Was she therefore deliberately frustrating the marital act? Of course not. The marital act of married couples past childbearing age is always infertile (i.e., they only have intercourse during infertile periods); are they therefore deliberately frustrating the marriage act? Of course not.

          NFP still leaves every marital act open to conception (even if conception is unlikely to occur). Contraception actively sterilizes the marital act. That is no small difference.

    2. If I may, I’ll throw in my 2 cents about NFP as well.

      I have heard many different opinions about it, some positive, some negative. For me, trying to use it was like taking a bridge from our culture’s beliefs about fertility back to God’s plans for fertility. In my previous post, I mentioned that I got pregnant on my honeymoon, and that I wasn’t exactly thrilled when I first found out. Let me add some details to make the picture clearer. NFP was part of my experience.

      As I mentioned before, prior to our wedding, my fiance and I had learned that contraception is a mortal sin. OK, that was clear enough: we couldn’t contracept, or there’d be hell to pay for it. However, even though we didn’t mean to, we were still clinging to shreds of the contraceptive mentality: it seemed we could use NFP to delay/avoid/plan pregnancies instead! This is pretty embarrassing to me now, but, we actually scheduled our wedding date such that we could have our wedding & honeymoon during an infertile part of my cycle.

      Fear of punishment deterred us from sinning mortally by contracepting, but, at the beginning, we did not exactly rejoice about the gift of our fertility. We were rather afraid of its consequences. We didn’t realize it at first, but I think it’s fair to say we had “imperfect” love of God and His plans for our marriage. We hadn’t slammed the door shut in His face by contracepting, but instead, we only left the door ajar. Apparently, this small opening was enough, and God used it immediately.

      I was upset: I’d anticipated a straight pitch and planned my perfect swing, and instead, God threw us a curve ball on that cycle, and BAM! We were pregnant immediately after the wedding. Our stated reason for wanting to delay the first pregnancy a little? We wanted to be responsible and save for a house first. Here was our “perfect plan”: we’d live separately before marriage and save what we could on our own, then marry in a small ceremony, live frugally in a little apartment for awhile, then have a child as soon as we could afford a modest house. Imagine how I felt when a couple weeks after that positive pregnancy test, I found out my job was being cut: not for poor job performance on my part, but because of “corporate downsizing.” My husband’s job was also in jeopardy. Oh, I was mad! Those carefully laid plans were being destroyed in front of my eyes. Add that the world economy was reeling after the crash of ’08. Who was going to hire a pregnant lady in this economic environment?

      My despairing attitude was totally uncalled for. An unexpected job opportunity came up quickly for me — one that was actually better than the job that got cut. My husband did not actually lose his job. Then, we received a gift of money from my father-in-law. This was money that his father (a church organist in Bavaria) had left him, and which my father-in-law graciously decided to give to us instead. Who could have predicted that generosity? We found a foreclosed house that was underpriced because it looked a mess. The fundamentals were fine though, and we decided that for our limited budget, ugly was OK. We started the process of buying it. Then I got horribly, horribly ill with the swine flu and was quarantined. We closed the house as soon as my quarantine period ended. This wasn’t exactly how things had gone in my head, but, I could finally start to see that things were going well despite the fact that reality looked different than I thought it would.

      A couple days after moving in to our new house, a routine ultrasound made it look like my child’s rib structure was malformed. Now I was terrified that the flu virus had damaged my baby. At this time, no one really knew exactly what the swine flu was doing to pregnant women. As I mentioned in my previous post, a friend had actually lost her pregnancy, likely due to the high fever that came with this flu. My OB also told me about some rare genetic defect that causes the chest to sink in and crush the heart. Based on the ultrasound image, he thought it was possible my baby had this rare condition. He referred me to a high-risk pregnancy center for additional screenings. I was also told to see a genetic counselor.

      It was Thanksgiving time, and that seemed unbelievably ironic. I’d initially responded to my pregnancy with an ungrateful attitude because I didn’t like the timing and the circumstances. My friend had lost her child while sick with the swine flu. My child had survived, perhaps *because* of the timing of my pregnancy? There was no way to know that for sure. But, suddenly I felt grateful for the timing. Then a few days later, I was worrying about whether that flu had perhaps caused some horrible defect in my baby? I didn’t know. I prayed, and asked for the strength to love this child no matter her physical condition. I sensed danger in the way things were unfolding. I worried that if screenings turned up a real problem, I might be pressured to have an abortion. I refused to meet the genetic counselor, explaining that I didn’t want to talk about abortion, period.

      Time revealed the truth. My daughter did not have a defect. A shadow in the ultrasound image had made it look like her ribs were crushing her heart. I was struck very hard by the poetry of the situation. The Prince of Darkness loves to work in the shadows to crush our hearts, doesn’t he? How many children have been aborted due to shadows and fears?

      Early labor pain started on Good Friday. It took six days of this before things got going in earnest. Apparently God saw fit to let me suffer through it for awhile. (I hope it was adequate reparation for my ingratitude.) It wasn’t funny then, but now we can joke: clearly I am being told I am not God — I did labor for six days, but on the seventh day, I had a new baby in my arms, and so I did not get to rest. Her name is Sophia Christina, because she taught me that God’s plans — even ones that seem foolish– are truly wise.

      In my earlier post I also mentioned that we tried to use NFP for the opposite outcome: trying to conceive a second child. We didn’t get the timing we thought we wanted that way either. God apparently wanted me to fully, completely strip me of the illusions that I could control my own fertility. All our “trying” was inconsequential. The fact hat it was inconsequential made my heart hurt so bad that all I could do was get down on my knees and pray. A contrite prayer on Easter was better than all our “trying”. This child’s name (Paul Gabriel) means “Humble, God is my might.” I believe this child taught me that God wants us to be humble, and trust Him to give us what is truly good.

      I think of NFP as a tool. It can help you start the tough task of surrendering your fertility to God, getting from where you are now to where you are called to go.

    3. Re NFP I hesitate to say a lot publicly. It is an approved practice, provided it is used for serious reasons. The definition of serious reasons is a prudential matter to some extent, and it is hard to precisely define “serious reason”

      Frankly, these days, most couples I prepare for matrimony are in their early to mid thirties and I tell them just to get right to work having babies. They’ll be lucky to get three or four children at that age. To me, living naturally is for a couple to enter holy matrimony, start having reasonably frequent sexual intimacy and leave it up to God how many children to send them. That is natural. If a woman breast feeds, she will likely have a child no more than every two years or so, since lactation usually suppresses ovulation to some extent and helps to naturally space babies. I do refer NFP classes to couples who want them, but my best advice is to live naturally and use NFP only for rare reasons.

      1. Msgr.,

        As a former NFP instructor, I would like to point out a practical issue. It is very wise for couples preparing for marriage to learn a method before they are “having reasonably frequent sexual intimacy.” Most of the couples who came to us were married, started out doing nothing but breastfeeding and had had a baby a year. Now they wanted to learn a method which is harder to learn post-partum and while nursing, with other effects of intimacy clouding the normal symptoms. By not having learned about it ahead of time, they are trying to learn when they have no idea what a normal cycle is, and it too many cases no knowledge of the basics of reproductive biology. You can’t just flip a switch. What this means, most likely, is months and months of complete abstinence while they learn the method. Moreover, the “lactation usually suppresses ovulation” is only going to work for most women if they reject all the modern intrusions on the mother/baby relationship (binkies, bottles, supplemental formula) and can actually breastfeed (many women in their 30’s who have their first are unable to breastfeed). Finally, a woman who knows her own cycle has more knowledge going in to the doctor’s office and can often detect problems before the doctor. If she weds and cannot get pregnant, she will already have some months of charts to refer to in determining a cause and in aiding with issues of timing. (It is easier to try to get pregnant if you know what ovulation is and can tell when it is happening.)

        In short the knowledge gained is a bastion against temptation to contracept when a situation arises and they don’t know the method they are allowed to use and temptation to turn immediately to doctors who will give them immoral solutions to cycle and/or infertility issues.

  11. Sarah:

    Thank you for your beautiful, inspiring story. May God continue to bless your family!

  12. I’ve always liked the bit from the Canticle of Hannah, “The barren wife bears seven sons, while the mother of many languishes.” (1 Sam 2:5b)

    Neither the blessing nor the curse finds much purchase today.

  13. Wonderful verses, but everyone seems to forget Malachi 2:15: “Did not one God make her? [i.e. the wife of your youth] Both flesh and spirit are his. And what does the one God desire? Godly offspring. So look to yourselves, and do not let anyone be faithless to the wife of his youth.” http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=233382202

    1. Yes, this is a good one and I thought to add it, though the context is divorce, nevertheless godly offspring are mentioned as an essential reason not to divorce.

  14. Well done, Msgr. This issue seems to be the third rail of modern Christian belief, as you so articulately illustrate.

    Thank you for laying out this true teaching.

    It reminds me of the “Heresy of Americanism” Catholic Popes have articulated so clearly in the past. It seems, without knowing it, culture assimilates us more strongly than our Faith. It is tough to stand with HIm when it is so easy to simply “go along” without self examination. In a way, we have been stripped of a sense of right or wrong and, more importantly, our ability (and willingness) to speak out the truth. Classic spiritual warfare . . . it is tough to be a Catholic isn’t it?

  15. We are such a sad lot. Thanks Msgr. Pope for the article. Hopefully some will realize what we are doing to ourselves.

    When we lost the meaning of copulation within marriage and sterilized the process with artificial contraception, that is when homosexual ‘sex’, while not copulation, seemed to be socially normalized. The mutual stimulation seemed to be just another form of sterilized ‘sex’.

    As a veterinarian, I will say that within nature (with the human exception), all copulation is procreative.

    Like it or not, the Muslims still get this particular concept right. Would that we too universally recognize the blessing of children!

  16. So I asked a visiting priest after a homily where he promoted the idea of a woman priesthood (saying he diasgrees with those “across the water”) if he ever gave a homily on contraception. He said no. He said he speaks to couples individually. He jumped to abortion and his main concern is that anti-abortion proponents are usually pro death penalty. So he doesn’t speak on that topic either. I have never heard my current priest ever speak on contraception. My wife and i do prepare couples and we always discuss it and NFP. I cannot wait for the next batch of orthodox priests.

  17. I would just say on Onan that you are leaving out a problem: the levirate failure was not punished by death in the law but coitus interruptus is not punished or mentioned in the Levitical law at all. Catholic writers always leave that out. Augustine arrived at the passage with a lot of sexual sin in his past. True, he was foregiven but Aquinas warned of the remnants of sin….strong dispositions toward sin that God may leave in a person after foregiveness hence Christ warned about it as did the OT…”be not without fear for sins foregiven”.
    The nab translation has Onan killed by God not immediately but after doing this exclusively “whenever” he went in to Tamar. So it was not analogous to God striking down Uzzah for touching the ark just once. By sexualizing the Onan passage for most future commentators like Luther and Pius XI, Augustine missed Christ in the passage and Augustine was par excellance the person who found Christ constantly in Genesis: in the proportions of the ark, in Adam’s deep sleep/ then the hole made in his side as happened to Christ on the cross.
    When does God kill intimately one on one in the Bible? For sexual sins? David lives but his son dies. When does God kill one on one…the actual sinner? Sacrilege only. Uzzah for touching the ark…Dathan and Abiram and their families swallowed by the earth for revolt against Moses…Achan killed for stealing the precious metals reserved to God.. the sons of Eli for abusing the priesthood….the 42 children killed by bears at Eliseus’ curse since they disrespected prophets ( Aquinas ST)….the two groups of fifty who sought to harm Elijah…the sons of Aaron for using strange incense rather than that prescribed…the house of Ahab slaughtered by Jehu for idolatry which Jehu was anointed by the prophet to do…Acts 12 Herod is killed by the angel for accepting the title of “god”….Acts 5 Ananias and wife for lying to the Holy Spirit. The more intimate non mass killings by God are for sacrilege not sex.
    Then what was the sacrilege of Onan? What was the detestable thing? Remember….he did it “whenever” not once so the whole matrix of doing it “whenever” is key to the sacrilege. Onan risked by ruling out all child birth….the non appearance of Christ the Messiah who had to come from the house of Judah which was only four men: Judah and his three sons…Er, Onan, Shelah. Read the genealogy in the gospel….Christ was descended from Tamar finally seducing Judah and their child was Perez as noted in Christ’s descendant lineage in the gospel. Revelation 5:5…” Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

    Onan’s sin was about sacrilege…the worst one in scripture….he risked Christ not appearing. But we were always safe because God’s word never returns to Him void…His Providence ( not His antecedent willing) always takes place. Augustine’s personal baggage sent the western commentators off on a tangent but not all, some theologians like Soto, Navarrus ( and the Roman catechism) opposed contraception but never linked Onan to it.

    1. Well, since I presume you are not Catholic then perhaps you also misunderstand a Catholic premise, namely that of the Natural Law to which St. Paul refers and says that even the Gentiles are bound and are “without excuse” for violating. God punishes Onan for something, and to say it is merely the Leverite would create the problem of God acting capriciously, killing one for what is done but not the others.

      That God did not strike Onan at the first, as your seem to find significant, is more likely explained by his patience and willingness to look for repentance.

      As for personal baggage etc… look to yourself in the same regard, and ask “Why do I seek to justify this matter? What personal baggage do I have? Why must I get all wrapped up in the technicalities and miss the point. How I am trying to justify myself? WHy am I afraid of having many children etc”

      Finally, you seem to think I am using this text as a “proof text” But I am a Catholic. And I couch my argument in a series of Biblical texts and on the consistent doctrinal teaching of this matter in both Catholic and Jewish spheres for over 5000 years. So quibble all you please about Onan and recouch it all you please, but the teaching does not rise or fall on one text and you and to look to your own baggage. I speak to you of an ancient and biblical wisdom.

      1. Might I suggest, Monsignor, that the case against contraception and artificial reproduction goes to the very foundation of the kingship of God. The fulcrum of the battle between good and evil is not only about the eternal destiny of souls. The battle is also fought in the temporal and bodily realm, and the prize is the control of human fertility. Either the power to create a human being rightfully belongs to God alone, so that no creature may touch it, or He is not Lord in the sense that His Word has it.

  18. Thank you Msgr. Charles,

    My husband and I were virgins when we married and we consider ourselves devout Catholics. And yet, after being blessed with four beautiful children, my husband is not open to more children. Some would say, you already have many children, but in my heart I am so sad because to me, sex is all about self-donative love and being open to God’s plan for us. I know there can be mitigating factors for not having more children. However, I feel a strong sense of loss right now because my heart desires more children, and I can only think that comes from God. Please pray for us, and other Catholic couples tainted with this evil. As I finish writing this, my little two year old, Mary Margaret, came down to my room to tell me, “Mama, breakfast.” “Hi mommy.” she gave me a big hug. Thank you for your work. We pray for you.

  19. You’ll notice I didn’t insinuate anything about contraception. In fact I said this: ” some theologians like Soto, Navarrus ( and the Roman catechism) OPPOSED CONTRACEPTION but did not link Onan to it.” Those are Catholic theologians of past centuries. St. Ambrose like Soto and Navarrus opposed contraception but did not cite Onan. We are missing the bigger sin…sacrilege…by following Augustine on this particular passage. Augustine similarly starts an error that burdened Catholic laity due to his past. He held that asking for the debt was venial sin if the asker did not will children explicitly. Seven hundred years later Aquinas copies the idea.
    The Church only explicitly accepted the natural methods in the 19th century after science proved the cycles and their rough lineaments. But Augustine made that transition hard for the Popes because the natural methods acceptance meant he and Aquinas were wrong on the asker as sinning venially. Both held that the responder to the asking was sin free. Here are the texts modern Popes had to ignore to get to explicit acceptance of the natural methods which were opposed by Arthur Vermeesch, the advisor to Pius XI, who grew gainst them as they increased in accuracy…Spanish clergy and the local Bishops conference of Malines also opposed the natural methods at the turn of the century. But here’s Augustine and Aquinas making it harder for the modern Popes:

    times contradicts them both on this:
    Augustine.  On Marriage and Concupiscence
    Chapter 16 [XIV.]— A Certain Degree of Intemperance is to Be Tolerated in the Case of Married Persons; The Use of Matrimony for the Mere Pleasure of Lust is Not Without Sin, But Because of the Nuptial Relation the Sin is Venial.
    ….To escape this evil, even such embraces of husband and wife as have not procreation for their object, but serve an overbearing concupiscence, are permitted, so far as to be within range of forgiveness….
    Aquinas. Summa T.  Supplement question 49 art.5  Reply to Objection 2. 
        “If a man intends by the marriage act to prevent fornication in his wife, it is no sin, because this is a kind of payment of the debt that comes under the good of “faith.” But if he intends to avoid fornication in himself, then there is a certain superfluity, and accordingly there is a venial sin, nor was the sacrament instituted for that purpose, except by indulgence, which regards venial sins.”

    Aquinas. Supplement question 49, art.6, on the contrary…
    “If, however, he seek pleasure within the bounds of marriage, so that it would not be sought in another than his wife, it is a venial sin.”

    Supplement…question 49 art 5 “I answer that”: 
      “Consequently there are only two ways in which married persons can come together without any sin at all, namely in order to have offspring, and in order to pay the debt, otherwise it is always at least a venial sin.”

    Augustine erred on the IC for sexual issue reasons too and Aquinas followed him. The Franciscans were correct in the long run.

    1. Whats your issue. I have already indicated that a wide variety of sources are at work in Church teaching. The teaching does not stsnd or fall on Onan. So you can go on being persnickety all you want And parsing this or qouting that, The church permits varied interpretations of the story of Onan You hold a position, that I don’t think is internally consistent with the facts of the story, but you’re free to do so. But, as I said, the church teaching does not stand up on the story. Although you’re free to disagree with the interpretation of others, within the church, on this passage, try not to come across as arrogant suggesting that we simply don’t know what we’re talking about. Make your position respectfully, and avoid talking about baggage that other people apparently carrier don’t. This is smart aleck attitude that you have that I’m reacting to more here than to the argument that you make Which you are free to hold, Catholic or not.

  20. “How different this mentality is from the modern contraceptive age, anxious of of overpopulation even as we close schools (and) see our populations age.” Not only aging but also, in some cases, actually falling.
    Population projections are notoriously open to error but for what they are worth here are a few for 2050 from the US Population Reference Bureau:
    Note that the US population shows an increase but this may well be due to projected immigration. Same with the UK.

  21. To all the good passages quoted by Msgr. Pope we might add those that John Paul II relfects upon in the Theology of the Body – most especially Jesus’ pointing back in Mt: 19 to “the beginning” and reasserting that “the two shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). Additionally, if God is Love (1 John 4) and God is Fruitful (creator – Gen 1-2) and God is unitive (the Trinity) then true love is open to both unity and fruitfulness – as taught in Humanae vitae. If we are in the Divine Image – then the marital act provides a special way to be in that image where the love of two (Father-Son, Husband-Wife) gives rise to a third (Holy Spirit, Child).

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