Skip to comments.The Early Church Fathers on Contraception - Catholic/Orthodox Caucus
Posted on 02/15/2007 2:16:28 PM PST by NYer
The Early Church Fathers were undivided in their condemnation of artificial birth control. In fact, all Christian churches were in agreement on this until 1930.
Letter of Barnabas
Moreover, he [Moses] has rightly detested the weasel [Lev. 11:29]. For he means, "Thou shalt not be like to those whom we hear of as committing wickedness with the mouth with the body through uncleanness [orally consummated sex]; nor shalt thou be joined to those impure women who commit iniquity with the mouth with the body through uncleanness" (Letter of Barnabas 10:8 [A.D. 74]).
Clement of Alexandria
Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted (The Instructor of Children 2:10:91:2 [A.D. 191]).
To have coitus other than to procreate children is to do injury to nature (ibid. 2:10:95:3).
[Christian women with male concubines], on account of their prominent ancestry and great property, the so-called faithful want no children from slaves or lowborn commoners, they use drugs of sterility [oral contraceptives] or bind themselves tightly in order to expel a fetus which has already been engendered [abortion] (Refutation of All Heresies 9:7 [A.D. 225]).
[Some] complain of the scantiness of their means, and allege that they have not enough for bringing up more children, as though, in truth, their means were in [their] power . . . or God did not daily make the rich poor and the poor rich. Wherefore, if any one on any account of poverty shall be unable to bring up children, it is better to abstain from relations with his wife (Divine Institutes 6:20 [A.D. 307]).
God gave us eyes not to see and desire pleasure, but to see acts to be performed for the needs of life; so too, the genital ['generating'] part of the body, as the name itself teaches, has been received by us for no other purpose than the generation of offspring (ibid. 6:23:18).
They [certain Egyptian heretics] exercise genital acts, yet prevent the conceiving of children. Not in order to produce offspring, but to satisfy lust, are they eager for corruption (Medicine Chest Against Heresies 26:5:2 [A.D. 375]).
[l]n truth, all men know that they who are under the power of this disease [the sin of covetousness] are wearied even of their father's old age [wishing him to die so they can inherit]; and that which is sweet) and universally desirable, the having of children, they esteem grievous and unwelcome. Many at least with this view have even paid money to be childless, and have mutilated nature, not only killing the newborn, but even acting to prevent their beginning to live [sterilization] (Homilies on Matthew 28:5 [A.D. 391]).
Why do you sow where the field is eager to destroy the fruit, where there are medicines of sterility [oral contraceptives], where there is murder before birth?. . . Indeed, it is something worse than murder, and I do not know what to call it; for she does not kill what is formed but prevents its formation. What then? Do you condemn the gift of God and Fight with his [natural] laws? (Homilies on Romans 24 [A.D. 391]).
But I wonder why he [the heretic Jovinianus] set Judah and Tamar before us for an example, unless perchance even harlots give him pleasure; or Onan, who was slain because he grudged his brother seed. Does he imagine that we approve of any sexual intercourse except for the procreation of children? (Against Jovinian 1:19 [A.D. 393]).
You may see a number of women who are widows before they are wives. Others, indeed, will drink sterility [oral contraceptives] and murder a man not yet born, [and some commit abortion] (Letters 22:13 [A.D. 396]).
This proves that you [Manicheans] approve of having a wife, not for the procreation of children, but for the gratification of passion. In marriage, as the marriage law declares, the man and woman come together for the procreation of children. Therefore, whoever makes the procreation of children a greater sin than copulation, forbids marriage and makes the woman not a wife but a mistress, who for some gifts presented to her, is joined to the man to gratify his passion (The Morals of the Manichees 18:65 [A.D. 388]).
You [Manicheans] make your auditors adulterers of their wives when they take care lest the women with whom they copulate conceive. They take wives according to the laws of matrimony by tablets announcing that the marriage is contracted to procreate children; and then, fearing because of your [religious] law [against childbearing] . . . they copulate in a shameful union only to satisfy lust for their wives. They are unwilling to have children, on whose account alone marriages are made. How is it, then, that you are not those prohibiting marriage, as the apostle predicted of you so long ago [I Tim. 4:1-4], when you try to take from marriage what marriage is? When this is taken away, husbands are shameful lovers, wives are harlots, bridal chambers are brothels, fathers-in-law are pimps (Against Faustus 15:7 [A.D. 400]).
For thus the eternal law, that is, the will of God creator of all creatures, taking counsel for the conservation of natural order, not to serve lust, but to see to the preservation of the race, permits the delight of mortal flesh to be released from the control of reason in copulation only to propagate progeny (ibid. 22:30).
Who is he who cannot warn that no woman may take a potion [an oral contraceptive or an abortifacient] so that she is unable to conceive or condemns in herself the nature which God willed to be fecund? As often as she could have conceived or given birth, of that many homicides she will be held guilty, and, unless she undergoes suitable penance, she will be damned by eternal death in hell. If a women does not wish to have children, let her enter into a religious agreement with her husband; for chastity is the sole sterility of a Christian woman (Sermons 1:12 [A.D. 522]).
Where, exactly, do you find abortion statistics in America for very small and marginal groups like Arab and American Orthodox?
I'm aware of divorce studies by religion in America. These have consistently shown that Atheists and Catholics have the lowest number of people who have ever been married and divorced one or more times (around 20%). I would suspect divorce rates among the Orthodox to be similarly low, because they mostly live in the part of the country with the lowest divorce rates (the Northeast), and they do not tend towards the highest risk factors for divorce - marriage before 21, living together before marriage, and having children out of wedlock and then getting married.
NFP was first "approved" so to speak, by the Sacred Penitentiary under Blessed Pope Pius IX around 1850, when the Church first became aware of the practice and the science and theology behind it. Pope Pius XI, elsewhere in the Encyclical Casti Conubii also of course approves of periodic continence, since the Popes loathe to contradict their predecessors.
While true, this is only half the story. The divorce rate is calculated as the number of divorces in a year divided by the number of marriages. But this is deceiving because the number of marriages was higher in the past than it is today, so this results in a high number, even when the number of divorces is less than 1-2% of the total number of married couples in total.
More interesting is the number of people who have ever been married who have ever been divorced. This number is something like 30%.
Both, really. The physical deed is bad, and the intent without the deed is almost as bad.
Beware! Oral contraception and all other hormonal methods of 'contraception' is chemical MURDER of the Lord's little human creations.
Absolutely right. That's also true of the IUD, BTW.
"I DO have a tremendous amount of respect for the scientific knowledge and abilities of the ancient peoples, and would not doubt that they had a knowledge of abortive remedies that would surprise us."
I'm sure we would be impressed with the amount of knowledge they did have, but it would be impossible for them to know then what we know now.
It is my personal opinion that the use of a condom is a less serious matter than the use of the birth control pill.
This is because it is possible for the pill to occasionally fail in preventing ovulation. There is a backup feature of the pill that prevents possible fertilized eggs from implanting.
So...you have the situation where many women are actually aborting but are not aware of it.
When a condom "fails" the implantation is not prevented.
The early christians simply could not have known about the microscopic differences between this or that medicine - or what was truly contraceptive vs. what was abortive.
And how could they?
That's quite a leap in logic, imho. God gave us free will, rationality and fertility. We are to serve Him with our whole being, not just our genitalia or our minds. It IS up to God when a child is conceived. As it is up to Him if it will survive. It is the same argument for salvation. There are those who believe in pure predestination and those who believe in pure free will. God's creation seems to transcend both.
We're not as bad as we used to be before Vatican II. You can see how much better Catholics have gotten as evidenced by the shorter confession lines.
This is funny. With all of the scientific knowledge we have today most folks are oblivious to the fact that most of what we think of as contraception, are in fact abortifacients.
"This is funny. With all of the scientific knowledge we have today most folks are oblivious to the fact that most of what we think of as contraception, are in fact abortifacients."
yes they are.
And while I know I'm not "supposed" to say -as a catholic- that condoms are "acceptable."
In my mind -as I try to rely on common sense - they seem to be a less serious matter than medicines like the pill, hormone shots and patches.
I think there was an article posted about confession recently, about how much it has changed. Sad.
While I find any form of artificial contraception wrong, I do see your point. Something like a diaphram or condom will not cause loss of life. So hormonal contraception s wrong on two levels, the perversion of nature and the abortaficiant side effects.
"So hormonal contraception s wrong on two levels, the perversion of nature and the abortaficiant side effects."
And as far as relating that to the subject of the early christians' interpretation of its position against contraception...these nuances certainly could not have been considered back then, because they could not have known about those differences.
What I'm having trouble with is when someone says "here is the position taken by the Early Fathers...etc..."
And I wonder to myself how the Early Fathers could have an "official position" on a subject of which they had incomplete information.
I too see and understand your point about the early fathers. People like to pull out the argument that Aquinas believed that the soul did not enter a child until the quickening, or when it first move. They try to use that to say that life could not begin at conception and Aquinas agrees with them.
But Aquinas was arguing from the Aristoliean belief that motion required life. So he said that as soon as the baby moved that's when you knew it was alive. If he has today's techonology he would see the cell division that takes place at the moment of conception, as recognize that as life.
So I look at the fathers the same way. They didn't know that the window for pregnancy is about 36 hours. They did know that if you remove the life giving aspect of sex, then you pervert the act.
The fact that there are greater and lesser sins is not news. We are tempted to go the route of "Well at least it's not as bad as that." However, that is not Christianity. Christ tells us that we must pick up our crosses and follow Him. Pursuing the path of the lesser of two evils rather than the path of the good is a very old trick.
"The fact that there are greater and lesser sins is not news. We are tempted to go the route of "Well at least it's not as bad as that." However, that is not Christianity. Christ tells us that we must pick up our crosses and follow Him. Pursuing the path of the lesser of two evils rather than the path of the good is a very old trick."
I'm not sure if that exactly describes my line of thinking.
I think what my problem is that when someone tells me "this is what the Church has taught from the very beginning" and then they give me these quotes as proof....well, they don't exactly say what is being claimed.
What I'm reading is the opinion of men who considered abortion/contraception to be one and the same.
I'm also reading opinions of men who believed any sex outside of procreation is sinful...well - that isn't true either.
So I'm left wondering why the Church is claiming to stand on this "proof" - when I just don't see it as very convincing proof.
Does that make sense?
Don't worry about scolding me. Believe me when I tell you I have been properly scolded by many good catholics, and that still hasn't settled my questions.
I see your line of reasoning, but if this reasoning is to be followed through, then we as Catholics have to stop saying that 1 out of every 3 pregnancies is miscarried in the first trimester and start saying that over 2.5 out of every 3 pregnancies are miscarried in the first trimester because an overwhelming majority of life never develops.
That said, I'm still not sure I agree that a zygote seeking a home = life when 80% of them will not find a home, not implant, not develop past an 8-celled organism. Is a genetically whole zygote that cannot grow because it doesn't implant "life"? I don't have a yes or no answer and I can't just say "life has begun" because a zygote exists. It seems to me that, if a zygote is life, God has created human beings to cause a massive waste of life given the absurdly high percentage that never implant. God is not known for creating waste. So I still have no very good conclusion because I don't find any arguments pro unimplanted zygotes as life to be entirely persuasive.
I'm not saying that on this belief I'm going to go out and shoot myself up with Depo-Provera but I do think the modern Church needs to address head-on and in an unimpeachable philosophical manner the issue of whether all these unimplanted zygotes are "life" and the fact of all these millions of souls who are in heaven without getting past the 8-cells phase. Does that mean that I, an only child, may have 15 siblings? Sometimes I just have to throw up my hands and say "that just doesn't sit right with me" and the argument of all the souls of unimplanted zygotes going to heaven just doesn't sit right with me. Doesn't mean you're not right. Just means I can't really wrap my head around the logic of that.
"Absolutely right. That's also true of the IUD, BTW."
Roger that. Not oly the copper IUD but also with newer levonorgestrel based Mirena IUD.
---"the use of a condom is a less serious matter than the use of the birth control pill."---
----"This is because it is possible for the pill to occasionally fail in preventing ovulation. There is a backup feature of the pill that prevents possible fertilized eggs from implanting."----
YOU ARE CORRECT AGAIN! And with todays lower estrogen 'contraceptive' products, this backup abortifacient mechanism has become a much bigger player..... causing the flushing of many little human creations away..... all in the name of convenience.
While I could really care less about NFP ... (not MY prerogative what you do behind closed doors) I do take issue with 'Christians' murdering Our Lord's little ones and going on with life as if nothing has happened..... and it is really convenient and clean looking.....
"So...you have the situation where many women are actually aborting but are not aware of it."
Here is where we must dig deeper..... is there sin there? Is it involuntary manslaughter? Is it maybe a sin to not want what God is planning for you? Interesting. I'd say that thin ice seems to paint an accurate picture here.... killing is not easily excused no matter what your plea.
Where are you getting the information that 80% of xygotes are not implanting?
How is this known?
And if life does not begin at fertilization, then when exactly does it begin?
"Here is where we must dig deeper..... is there sin there? Is it involuntary manslaughter? Is it maybe a sin to not want what God is planning for you? Interesting. I'd say that thin ice seems to paint an accurate picture here.... killing is not easily excused no matter what your plea"
Well...there certainly is death, and I would say there is negligence due to ignorance.
How much of this constitutes "sin" is beyond me, as I think only God can really search a person's heart and determine their culpability.
As for me....I was once on the pill when I was younger, uninformed, and just starting off my marriage to a non-catholic.
One day I took the time to read the information that came with the prescription and stopped taking it.
I have no way of knowing if I ever aborted or not, so I don't know what degree of sin was committed.
My husband eventually converted and we are still wrestling with the whole NFP thing - but I supposed that is another topic.
We did confess the fact I had taken those pills and I trust someday God will let us know what the outcome of our actions were regarding that.
I think alot of responsibility also lies with those who write out the prescriptions to their patients without discussing this feature of the pill with them.
I think many women would not take it if they were told they could still be conceiving.