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]).
K, given all that you have ever posted about Orthodoxy, I can't for one minute begin to accept that a "spiritual" father/bishop, would approve a couple to practice contraception, given what we know about "the pill".
Birth control pills are routinely described as "contraceptives", that is, things that prevent conception, the beginning of a new human life. But in fact birth control pills sometimes act as "abortifacients", things that cause abortion.
Birth control pills act in three basic ways: (This information can be obtained from any standard reference work, such as the Physician's Desk Reference.)
The newer low-dose pills are less effective at preventing ovulation and therefore rely more on the remaining two functions. As an egg is microscopic, it can be difficult to tell in any given case whether an egg really has been released. But Dutch gynecologist Dr Nine Van der Vange made an extensive study of women using these pills. She found proof that an egg had been released in 4% of the cases, and found follicle growth typical of what one finds in early pregnancy in at least 52% of cases.
The workings of the mini-pill are not fully understood, but it appears to allow ovulation at least 40% of the time, according to Emory University's Contraceptive Technology. Ovulation expert Dr. John Billings estimates that between 2 and 10 per cent of a woman's cycles are still ovulatory even when she is taking the Pill. That means there is a chance she can still conceive a child; but because of the Pill's effect on the lining of the womb, the child will not be able to implant, and will be expelled from the mother's body. Although this might seem to be a small percentage risk, over time the likelihood is great. Moreover, there really is no such thing as a "negligible" risk of aborting a baby. In this case, any risk is too great.
Ping to post #41.
"K, given all that you have ever posted about Orthodoxy, I can't for one minute begin to accept that a "spiritual" father/bishop, would approve a couple to practice contraception, given what we know about "the pill"."
I wouldn't know what "spiritual" fathers/bishops do. In the "Catholic" church do "priests" and or "bishops" make their private advice and counsel to their spiritual children a matter of public discussion?
"What does this word mean? : "theologoumenna" "
Its the plural of theologoumennon. :)
I disagree, I think Humanae Vitae is a remarkable work of prophecy and showed that in or out of season the Chair of Peter must speak Truth to the times. The fact that the laity just want to be a product of the times rather than eternity is nothing new.
"The fact that the laity just want to be a product of the times rather than eternity is nothing new."
I'll grant you that. The Latin Church certainly seems plagued with that attitude, at least at most levels below the Pope. My 2 cents worth of problem with Humanae Vitae (and its just that because Orthodoxy doesn't teach what Humanae Vitae teaches in any dogmatic manner) is not with what it says, but rather with its results, the ecclesiology which gave birth to it as dogma in the first place and the less than satisfactory way the Latin Church advises getting around it.
No it does not. It allows God to order our lives. We do not create a breach between the recreative and procreative aspects of human sexuality. It relies heavily on chastity and self-discipline. Two things God tends to encourage among His people.
and second, having done that, one hopes, it allows the participants to indulge in what some Fathers viewed as animalistic behavior.
The Church does not teach that sex is Purely for procreation, that is merely the flipside of humanism which sees it as purely for recreation. As for the Early Fathers of the Church, it strikes me as undeniable that they were against the idea that human sexuality revolves purely around the pleasure principle.
It means "Opinion."
"No it does not. It allows God to order our lives."
That's just a bit too disengenuous, T. If the Latin Church really believed this, there would be absolutely no point whatsoever in practicing NFP, indeed it would be forbidden as it would always be up to God as to when a child is conceived. Maybe God wants a child conceived during a wife's fertile period. Doesn't abstention then "frustrate" God's purpose?
In practice perhaps not; but in theory - of course you do. You just posted it above, with justification. Essentially, you have stated that "this is a personal matter between the priest/bishop and the married couple".
In the Catholic Church, this is NOT a personal matter. Church teaching clearly outlaws any form of artificial birth control. The only resort for Catholics following such a practice is to confess this sin. What happens in the confessional is then quite private. However, any priest who approves (not absolves) them of this sin is complicit. That is quite different from the Orthodox position that you cited.
"In the Catholic Church, this is NOT a personal matter. Church teaching clearly outlaws any form of artificial birth control."
I know, and it doesn't work does it? It has just caused the laity to show contempt for the Latin Church's teachings.
"However, any priest who approves (not absolves) them of this sin is complicit."
Catholic "priests" absolve people of their sins? Remarkable; another difference with Orthodoxy.
NFP works ... in fact, it is rapidly growing as the form of choice by the Evangelicals! How comforting to know that what the Catholic Church has always taught is now being picked up by non-Catholic denominations.
It has just caused the laity to show contempt for the Latin Church's teachings.
You're really stretching it here, aren't you, K? Even you conscience dictates that the Church should never legitimize abortafacients to their members.
I'm not running too well on the clear side today, I was looking for what the Orthodox belief is. What is Orthodox's position?
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.
I'm sorry, I don't understand what you mean by this.
Thanks for the definitions....
Actually, I don't know of any Catholic families practicing illict methods for preventing pregnancy. Our parish is refered to as Humane Vitae parish by our pastor. Of the Catholics I went to school with, all are very open about how their marital lives are in complete harmony with the Church's teachings.
I am surrounded by those who hold the Church's teachings in the highest regard. So, from my personal experience, it's working just fine.
Ding Ding Ding!
Round one complete, sports fans!
In one corner we have K with "priests" and in the other we have N with abortafacients.
Are you ready to Ruuuummble!????
"I know, and it doesn't work does it?
That's not what you were talking about nor what I was responding to. The dogmatic declaration hasn't worked, NYer. NFP, like other kinds of birth control works sometimes and sometimes it doesn't. That's not the point.
"You're really stretching it here, aren't you, K?"
You really think so? Why is Roman Catholic contraceptive usage marginally higher than the rest of the population then? For that matter, why is the abortion rate for Catholic women substantially (not marginally, substantially) higher than for Protestant women?
In the meantime, abortion is murder. That's an easy case, NYer. I do have to wonder why, however, the abortion rate among Catholic women is so high.
Does the Orthodox Church have a position on the morality of abortaficiant contraceptives, such as the pill, the depo shot, norplant, IUD etc, all of which agknowledge at least the possibility of having abortaficiant side effects?
Have some questions and observations, but to tired to right now.
"In one corner we have K with "priests"...."
"Priests", the "Catholic" church and "bishops" come from the attitude which produced "spiritual" fathers/bishops. :) I'm glad someone noticed. Ironic!