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]).
What do you object to? I think Humanae Vitae began some clarification of the Church's teachings, which could more clearly been seen in John Paul the Great's Theology of the Body. It is wrong to try to separate the unitive and procreative aspects of love. I saw a couple of quotes from the fathers that do not accurately represent the Church's teachings.
Not every act of love must result in pregnancy, but every act of love must mirror the life giving love of the Creator.
I don't know the Orthodox position on this.
It takes a little courage to post / discuss some topics, doesn't it? Thank you for posting.
"The first difference, of course, is in the names. Natural Family Planning versus Artificial Contraception."
Not so at all. According to the Scholastics, the problem with artificial contraception is the FACT that it violates a Natural Law principle, namely the "intimate" connection between the unitive and procreative purposes of sex.
Quite aside from that, the simple fact of the matter is that virtually all of the Fathers were celibates and like Jerome (but unlike, interestingly +John Chrysostomos) viewed even marital intercourse as animalistic and best supressed save for procreation.
The problem with NFP is two fold. First, by it very nature it is designed to separate without penalty, the unitive and procreative aspects of marriage and second, having done that, one hopes, it allows the participants to indulge in what some Fathers viewed as animalistic behavior.
"What do you object to?"
I don't object to any part of it. It isn't dogma in my church. I do object to a system which declares ex cathedra a dogma which the Laos tou Theou clearly have rejected and which then persists in that dogma. As you know, in Orthodoxy, no proclaimed dogma is accepted as dogma until the Laos tou Theou proclaim their "Axios" by living out that dogma in their lives. The Latin faithful have done quite the opposite when it comes to Humanae Vitae. But they and the Latin Church, have no way to deal with that situation. That, MB, breeds contempt for all dogma, let alone teachings which are in the category of theologoumenna.
" Not every act of love must result in pregnancy, but every act of love must mirror the life giving love of the Creator.
I don't know the Orthodox position on this."
The ban on artificial birth control is not dogmatic. It is theologoumennon. In any event, Orthodoxy leaves the issue to the couple and their spiritual father/bishop.
That is not the tenor of this post. God has blessed you with 4 children (all beautiful in His sight) and the medical expertise to deliver them by C-section. You and your wife are no doubt grateful to Him for these gifts in your marriage.
The tenor of this post is to point out that the Early Church Fathers were in full agreement with God that children are a gift and preventing pregnancy should not be accomplished through artificial means.
There is no doubt that abortifacient conctraception should not be used by any practicing Christian.
So do you oppose any and all types of regulation of birth?
NFP does not sever the unitive and procreative nature of sex. A couple using NFP is acting in an unitive and procreative act whenever they have intercourse. The fact that life does not come from each and every act is not due to the nature of the act they engaged in. This cannot be said of a contracepting couple.
Jerome and Augustine's views on the sanctity of sex are not in keeping with the Catholic Church's teachings. While it is understandable why Augustine viewed things the way he did, and Jerome, from what I can tell was kind of grumpy about a lot of stuff, the fact is, that's not the way God views it. The ability to love, and it is love not some animalistic behavior, with a life giving love is yet another way we are made in the image and likeness of God.
Should a couple use NFP as a means of postponing conception, there is a penalty. The denial of gratification at that point in time. It is a sacrifice. And I do not think that those who struggle with infertility, and therefore cannot bring forth life through their sex, are not behaving in an animalistic fashion. Although the fathers would disagree with me on this point.
By "couple", I am assuming you mean 'married'. If so, then you have entirely missed the point. Sex is the only means to produce offspring. Marital sex does not entail generating 25 children. Read the Fathers, again.
One thing that I've noticed in the US is that Roman Catholic families and Orthodox Christian families are about the same in numbers of children.
There are exceptions, of course. My dad was one of 8 children and my mother was one of nine (no, that's not a name you Star Trek geeks!). However, you don't see many families that large any more.
Got to run, but will respond later, in the mean time, I so don't know what these terms mean....care to dumb it down to my level? :)
See post #26.
I do mean married.
"So do you oppose any and all types of regulation of birth?"
My personal opinion is really neither here nor there; I agree with Orthodoxy's position.
"NFP does not sever the unitive and procreative nature of sex. A couple using NFP is acting in an unitive and procreative act whenever they have intercourse. The fact that life does not come from each and every act is not due to the nature of the act they engaged in."
Of course it does! The fact that timing may be off and a baby results doesn't mean that the whole exercise of NFP isn't designed to avoid just that.
The Orthodox allow for artificial birth control.
Because of the lack of a full understanding of the implications of the biology of reproduction, earlier writers tended to identify abortion with contraception. However, of late a new view has taken hold among Orthodox writers and thinkers on this topic, which permits the use of certain contraceptive practices within marriage for the purpose of spacing children, enhancing the expression of marital love, and protecting health.
"Laos tou Theou >/i>
The People of God
Worthy (meaning here we assent and agree)
A pious belief or teaching which one may accept or reject.
In Orthodoxy, the Assumption is an example of a theologoumennon, though that one borders on actual dogma. Something like the ban on ABC would likely never been seen as dogma in any event. It might be set up as a sort of disciplinary canon, but that would always presuppose the "out" of economia.
"The Orthodox allow for artificial birth control."
Well, yes and no. As I said earlier, at most one would look at the issue as one of discipline, at least insofar as non-abortifacient methods go. As such, economia applies and so far as I know, the bishops have left its exercise up to the spiritual father of the couple. The default position, and it is disciplinary/praxis, is no ABC.
Some topics, such as this one, touch sensitive nerves. It is quite difficult for anyone who has practiced artificial birth control, to confront the truth (i.e. reality) of God's design. And when you consider that our contemporary christian acceptance of artificial birth control only began in 1930, it can be downright mind boggling to consider that up until that time, ALL christian churches rejected artificial birth control.
I still recall the news coverage of Second Vatican Council and the official announcement of the Catholic Church's position on this topic. Everyone, especially Catholics, anticipated that the Catholic Church would take a 'contemporary' stance on this by approving the use of the pill. It was a shock - literally - to learn that Pope Paul VI defended traditional Church teachings. In his encyclical on this, Pope Paul VI wrote:
Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one, or that such intercourse would merge with procreative acts of past and future to form a single entity, and so be qualified by exactly the same moral goodness as these. Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good," it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (18)in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general. Consequently, it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong.
Many Catholics, as Orthodox freeper Kolokotronis has already pointed out, rejected the Catholic Church position and 'followed their own consciences' in this matter. Their decision to do so, in no way abbrogates the Church's teachings on the matter. Sadly, only one church has rigidly defended this position on contraception, further testimony that our Lord promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide His church on earth. This was not a popular decision and the Church has never backed down on this teaching.
Following his election as pontiff, JPII began delivering a series of teachings on The Theology of the Body. If you're up to it, this might be a good lenten study.
If my understanding is correct, the laity did not begin to reject the ban on ABC until they saw that other Christians were beginning to permit it, and even then any deviations prior to the release of the encyclical were due to the anticipation that Pope Paul VI would "change the doctrine" to "bring the Church in line with the times."
That's how I understand it... I don't know firsthand because I wasn't there, as I wasn't born yet.
Also, so far as ABC and the Orthodox goes, would it not be more prudent, considering both the side effects even of the non-abortifacient methods and the arguments from the Fathers as provided, to suggest NFP? Would this not especially be so if there is any doubt concerning it as a doctrine of the ancient Church (as Paul VI and Catholics since have claimed?)
(Just some thoughts I had)
" If my understanding is correct, the laity did not begin to reject the ban on ABC until they saw that other Christians were beginning to permit it, and even then any deviations prior to the release of the encyclical were due to the anticipation that Pope Paul VI would "change the doctrine" to "bring the Church in line with the times."
That's how I understand it... I don't know firsthand because I wasn't there, as I wasn't born yet."
Oh I don't know why Catholics rejected it. It may be for the reasons you said. I was alive and kicking back then, but frankly wasn't paying that much attention! :) I will say that perhaps the anticipation was because the people saw that prior teachings were too rigid and should be changed. You know, for many, many centuries, The Church ranked abortion far below such sins as murder and even adultery because of deficient knowledge on the biology of conception.
"Also, so far as ABC and the Orthodox goes, would it not be more prudent, considering both the side effects even of the non-abortifacient methods and the arguments from the Fathers as provided, to suggest NFP? Would this not especially be so if there is any doubt concerning it as a doctrine of the ancient Church (as Paul VI and Catholics since have claimed?"
Maybe some spiritual fathers do suggest that. In any event, I do think Orthodoxy is wise to leave this to the spiritual father of the couple or their bishop.
What does this word mean? : "theologoumenna"