Contraception: What the Church Teaches

egg and spermUpon learning that the Church has a teaching about contraception, it is not uncommon for some to question why the Church is interested in such matters. Further, because the Church’s teaching on contraception is rarely given the level of attention and discussion it deserves, it is often unclear what exactly the Church teaches. This article is a brief introduction to a beautiful teaching that I believe, when understood, will be embraced with great joy.

Why does the Church have a teaching about contraception? The Church has the solemn responsibility to uphold truth, to protect marriage, and to seek the good of spouses. She has a vested interest in the good of Her people and society at large. Her teaching regarding contraception is made “in the light of an integral vision of man and of his vocation, not only his natural and earthly, but also his supernatural and eternal vocation” (Humanae Vitae 7). We have been made by God and for God, and the Church proclaims and proposes the truths necessary to aid men and women to live this life in His light and love so that they might enjoy eternal life with Him. The Church teaches because she loves every member who, as Scripture reminds us, is set free by truth alone both in this life and for the next. Far from a never-ending list of “no’s,” the Church’s teachings about contraception and marriage are primarily an affirmation of great goods to which the Church proclaims a resounding “Yes.”

What is marriage? Scripture affirms that marriage is not a creation of man, but an institution of nature that has been divinely ordained by God. Marriage is a beautiful life-long covenantal relationship between one man and one woman. It is exclusive and open to new life. Marriage is “the wise institution of the Creator to realize in mankind His design of love” and the marriage between the baptized has been raised by Christ to the dignity of a sacrament (HV 8). Through marriage, spouses might enrich one another’s lives through union in love, and so that their mutual love might give rise to new life. This is expressed beautifully in Scripture by Adam who, upon seeing Eve, exclaimed “at last this one is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh,” and it is enriched further by God’s first command to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28).

So what does the Church teach about contraception? The marital act is and must always remain open to new life. The union of spouses through conjugal love must never be made deliberately closed to life or love. As Pope Paul VI explained, “The Church…teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life” (HV 12). In God’s divine plan the marital act unites them in love and gives rise to new life. God has established an “inseparable connection” between these unitive and procreative purposes of marital love, and when a couple rejects one of these beautiful purposes of their sexual union they harm their spouse and their marriage-even if their intentions are good. Contraceptive intercourse involves a choice for the kind of act that is against the possibility of new life so as to prevent pregnancy. It deliberately makes infertile a sexual act within marriage that should be fertile. The couple who freely and knowingly does this commits a mortal sin.

It sounds like the Church teaches that contraception is anti-life? Yes, this is one reason the Church recognizes contraception to be immoral. Contraception contributes to a culture of death by creating an environment in which potential children are treated as an unwelcome burden, an impediment to personal goals, or even worse, an enemy to be avoided at all costs. This negativity toward new life is why a child conceived following a contraceptive intercourse is described by society as “un-planned,” “an accident,” or “un-wanted.” Blessed John Paul II noted that contraception and abortion are “fruits of the same tree.” “Indeed,” he writes, “the pro-abortion culture is especially strong precisely where the Church’s teaching on contraception is rejected” (Evangelium Vitae 13). Recent studies have confirmed that higher rates of contraceptive use do not reduce demand for abortion, but rather increase abortion rates because it becomes a sort of “Plan C” after a woman becomes unexpectedly pregnant. Perhaps most importantly, new life is the “supreme gift” and “crowning glory” of marriage, and couples should always be open (and never opposed to) the fruit of their love.

But what about our need to express love to one another? Recall that Jesus revealed to us that the true and full nature of love is that love is self-gift. Husbands and wives are called to foster love and unity within their marriage. Every couple seeks marriage precisely because they ardently desire to love deeply and fully. But, love is a choice, and love is hard. Instead of facilitating love, contraception actually makes it more difficult to love. In Blessed John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, he explains that we communicate with our bodies. Marital intercourse (no contraceptives) allows for spouses to fully give and receive one another – there are no barriers, there is no withholding of self from one’s beloved. But with contraceptive intercourse couples reject one another’s fertility, protect themselves from one another, and withhold a full gift of self. They reject a potential child who is the embodiment of their love, their incarnate “I love you.” “Contraception introduces a radical contradiction between what a couple desires by intercourse and the act that they choose.” John Paul emphasized that “‘[W]hen the conjugal act is deprived of its inner truthbecause it is deprived artificially of its procreative capacity, it also ceases to be an act of love.’ Contraceptive intercourse is incapable of the complete gift of self that married couples truly desire” (Nichols, Ethics and Medics, Feb 2013). Ultimately, contraception is opposed to love.

Does this mean we have to breed like rabbits? Not at all. Blessed John Paul II stressed that, “unfortunately, Catholic thought is often misunderstood on this point, as if the Church supported an ideology of fertility at all costs, urging married couples to procreate indiscriminately and without thought for the future. But one need only study the pronouncements of the Magisterium to know that this is not so.” When couples have serious reasons to postpone having children they may do so by abstaining from intercourse periodically be using “Natural Family Planning ” or “Fertility Awareness.” We must generously, prayerfully, and responsibly consider how many children to have and when to have them while always maintaining a commitment to being open to new life and complete love.

 

This article originally appeared in Spirit and Life, the eColumn for Human Life International.

image credit: shutterstock

Arland Nichols

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Arland Nichols is Director of Education and Evangelization for hli.org.

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  • BillinJax

    The beauty and wonder of the Conception of a child in the
    womb of its mother was chosen as a target at the very beginning of socialism
    and its liberal agenda to accomplish the “fundamental transformation of America”
    way before the current regime and their announced messiah appeared on the
    national scene. The cry from the desert of doom was that the world God had made
    for us was in grave danger of Over Population. We had to save the earth from
    being over run with new life? The pictures accompanying every deceitful article
    echoing that cry were not of cute toddlers in their mother’s arms or on happy
    playgrounds or in pleasant classrooms learning of the beauty of God’s good
    earth. No, we were shown starving skin and bone figures in poor countries of Africa
    and Asia where Christian missionaries were trying to
    bring the truth of the gospels to the people. Ironically this deceitful campaign
    gained support at the very time when tens of millions of innocent humans all
    over the world had just been ritually slaughtered by godless dictators and imperial
    rulers before, during and after World War II.
    Contraception in all its forms, as part of the selfish
    passion for freedom from individual responsibility, was hailed as a redeeming
    blessing for not only married couples who wished not to have the obligation of raising
    a family but also to any and all who desired to be romantically involved prior
    to or in lieu of marriage. The personal benefits and blessing of conjugal love
    which God had reserved for married couples to have families and procreate were transformed
    and disguised as simply human rights suddenly ordained and made available by
    the secular progressives to everyone without having to pledge eternal companionship
    or bare the obligations of parenthood. Giving those with a taste for such
    freedom, the media offered public cover by naming their cause a Sexual
    Revolution. Driven by the desire to avoid personal responsibility at any price¸ rejecting any mention of
    chastity, this was the harbinger of societal perversion as well as the
    precursor and foundation for what eventually became our own national plague, Abortion.
    One might easily define the demise of American family life by its two most
    revealing concepts, contraception and abortion. One opposed the creative nature
    God granted to the union of a man and a woman joined in Holy Matrimony and the
    other sought to challenge the very involvement of God in the equation. Both
    have at the center of its premise the denial that man is the product of the
    goodness and abundance of God’s love and that man was not made in His image and
    likeness. Therefore, there is no such thing as procreation and God had no
    purposeful design for the ability of mankind to reproduce.
    Liberalism, like Humanism, stops
    short of denying the existence of God least they lose the
    basis for the goodness of man which provides them some footing to espouse
    their false philosophy of life. This is the same as the satanic Temptation of
    Christ when he was asked to forsake his divine nature and simply be human
    and follow the commands of one who would provide him with all he would
    ever need. The lord of lies has hope; hope that we do not recognize him among
    those who have unknowingly followed him and wish to control us.

    The world witnessed recently the liberal dominated
    democratic national convention purposely attempting to remove all mention of
    God from their platform to proudly but foolishly proclaim what could be called
    a doctrine of the cultural death. However, they reasoned prior to the election was
    not good timing for exposing the under belly of their agenda and leaders
    hastily overruled the mobs there present shouting for its approval.

  • misterheche

    Here is another good link with resources and information about the Church’s teaching on contraception:

    http://allhands-ondeck.blogspot.com/2013/07/humane-vitae-at-45-why-catholic-church.html

  • lightedlamp97

    I see a new trend regarding contraception though, everybody has such difficult pregnancies that they should not have any more. Have we forgotten that woman’s body was made for giving and receiving life. Woman before us easily had 10, 12, 18 children without advanced medicine. Today’s women are too caught up in destroying their own bodies to be that generous. I’ve had 9 babies and I can no longer wear shorts in public because the veins in my legs look an elderly woman. It doesn’t seem to make my husband any less attractive for him. We should learn to let go of the physical attributes of “woman” that the world see as attractive and become the person who God wills through the life that he sends. Furthermore, most mothers of many that I know are some of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I once stood in line and got my new driver’s license with 3 small children under the age of 4. Actually, they were all hanging on my legs while the room filled with people looked on in horror. That picture was amazing, you would have never known what I endured to get it! And, God blessed it with beauty!! That’s how God works. He will make it all beautiful if your will is aligned to do his will. However, it takes a leap of faith to do so. Women let’s fill the pews again with selfless souls that the world needs. Ask your child or children what they want, they want people a brother, a sister, another brother, another sister. Babies are way more fun than an X-box or I-pad!!

  • BillinJax

    lightedlamp97
    God bless you for speaking the truth to a world that is running from it as fast as it can. This is for you my dear from a father of four who has a wife who would agree with all you have said.
    You women who have given your life to your husbands and children, gone through childbirth, cooked and cleaned, dried the tears and bound our wounds all the while praying to God to guide and protect us have the natural gift of eternal love and
    survival for those around you. Men may be physically stronger but we tend to be
    short sighted looking only at what is affecting us at the moment and what to do
    about it. We are the first to mope about when things go wrong instead of
    accepting life as it comes to us knowing nothing good comes with out some pain
    or discomfort. It is in the nature God gave you to be the heart and soul of what we call humanity. Neither Man nor earth was complete until woman came upon the scene and made life fruitful and abundant. Don’t let anyone try to deny this truth.
    And the woman God made especially for Himself, our Mother Mary Queen of heaven, also naturally with her heart of eternal love wants to gather all of Gods children under her maternal care and lead them through Christ to the Father. Like you women she has taken it as her duty and commitment as His bride to care for the children of God. Bless you!!

  • Wanjiru

    What does the church teach about mothers who are medically during pregnancy. Is NFP acceptable? And how about family spacing? And do we place any economic considerations especially in poor countries? And where women do not have a say over their fertility and cannot attend NFP classes with their husbands because these of several issues? I speak as an African catholic trying to understand the teaching more.

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