Teaching on Contraception Often Misunderstood
Would we ever try to prevent a gift from God? Of course not. So what is God’s greatest gift to us? Life. If we did not have life, no other gift would matter.
So why would we try to prevent his greatest gift by artificial means for our own gratification? That is exactly what artificial contraception does; it prevents God’s creative grace so that we make use of the gift of our human sexuality for pleasure alone, when it is meant not only for the unitive act between a husband and wife but for procreation as well.
Bishop Fulton Sheen used to protest against the term “birth control” because, he said, birth control has nothing to do with birth or control. That is a humorous and accurate quip about the least adhered-to of the church’s teachings.
Like any church teaching that is rejected, the prohibition of artificial contraception is very misunderstood. Though this is a multi-faceted issue, here are the basics as to why the church prohibits artificial contraception.
Contraception negates the creative act of God. It also compromises the unity of the relationship between the husband and the wife. For these reasons, the church teaches that contraception is disordered and morally wrong. In a nutshell, the church condemns contraception because it goes against the good of marriage and procreation.
God’s very first commandment to humans was to “be fruitful and multiply.” God told us to have sex so as to bring forth more life. Artificial contraception, by its very nature, goes against the very first command of God.
The church does not force people into having as many children as possible; however, it says that married couples should not deliberately attempt to negate the natural order that God himself established between the marital act and his power to create new life.
At the same time, the church does not forbid married couples from enjoying conjugal love when they know that procreation is unlikely. For this reason, the church always has been a supporter of natural family planning, which is a natural way of regulating the fertility that conforms to nature and is not artificial. Those choosing to abide by the complete teachings of the church on sexuality, including NFP, experience less than 1 percent marital infidelity, domestic violence, divorce, abortion and sexually transmitted diseases.
When a couple uses NFP, as it has been taught to them, they experience 98.6 percent effectiveness and have a much higher rate of conceiving when they feel most ready for it.
All of this is being said, of course, with the understanding that the couple would always be open to the life that God might give them.
All Christian denominations were solidly united against the use of artificial contraception until 1930, when at the Lambeth Conference in England, the Anglican Church allowed married couples to use contraception but only for grave reasons. The other Protestant denominations were not far behind in permitting its use by their members. It soon became the slippery slope, where artificial contraception was justified for most any reason.
The Catholic Church has always remained consistent in its prohibition of artificial contraception. Many people might mistakenly believe that it all started with Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968, but Pope Paul was simply reconfirming what the church has always taught and believed.
Some of the earliest documents condemning contraception date back to the third century. Some of the strongest language ever used in condemning contraception came from Pope Pius XI in his 1931 (one year after the Lambeth conference) encyclical, “Casti Cannubii,” when he states, “(A)ny use whatever of marriage, in the exercise of which the act by human effort is deprived of its natural power of procreating life, violates the law of God and nature, and those who do such a thing are stained by a grave and mortal flaw.”
Another important point, perhaps the most important, is the fact that parents do not create life; God does. Parents are cooperators in God’s act. Thus conception should never be an issue of convenience. Rather, it should be seen as one of the holiest and most God-like actions that a husband and wife can participate in.
The Second Vatican Council document, “Gaudium et Spes” says that “children are the supreme gift of marriage.” May we never actively and knowingly try to prevent God’s gift. —Father Richard Kunst
(Soon-to-be) Pope Saint Paul VI, pray for us!