Dear Father, Several of my married friends use contraception and don’t understand why the Church is opposed to it. What can I tell them?
To answer your question we have to go back to the beginning, to God’s plan in creating us. We read in Genesis: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it’” (Gen 1:27-28).
We see here how God blesses our first parents in asking them to be fruitful and multiply, that is, to come together in a one flesh union of love in order to bring children into being. Throughout the Scriptures the birth of a child is always regarded as a blessing and sterility as a sign of reproach.
God gives us through our sexuality the power to co-operate with him in bringing new human beings into existence, human beings destined for eternal life with God. Not for nothing do we call it procreation. It is truly an awesome gift – and an awesome responsibility. Spouses have within themselves the power of saying yes or no to the existence of a new human being. For this reason the Church has always taught that each act of marital intimacy must be open to the transmission of life. Indeed, all Christian denominations taught this until 1930, when the Lambeth conference of the Anglican Church broke ranks and allowed the use of contraception.
At the end of that year, by way of reaffirming the Catholic Church’s centuries-old stand on the issue, Pope Pius XI wrote the encyclical Casti Connubii. After mentioning some of the reasons why couples may not want to have children, he wrote that the use of contraception goes against nature itself: “But no reason whatever, even the gravest, can make what is intrinsically against nature become conformable with nature and morally good. The conjugal act is of its very nature designed for the procreation of offspring; and therefore those who in performing it deliberately deprive it of its natural power and efficacy, act against nature and do something which is shameful and intrinsically immoral” (CC 54).
He went on to say that “any use of matrimony whatsoever in the exercise of which the act is deprived, by human interference, of its natural power to procreate life, is an offence against the law of God and of nature, and that those who commit it are guilty of grave sin” (CC 56).
In 1968 Pope Paul VI repeated this teaching in his encyclical Humanae vitae: “Similarly excluded is every action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” (HV 14).
He explained that the one-flesh union of husband and wife (the unitive aspect) and the openness to life (the procreative aspect) are willed by God and cannot be separated by man. “By safeguarding both these essential aspects, the unitive and the procreative, the conjugal act preserves in its fullness the sense of true mutual love and its ordination towards man’s most high calling to parenthood” (HV 12).
Pope Paul says here that a conjugal act open to life preserves in its fullness the sense of true mutual love. Indeed, marital acts using contraception are not acts of love. Love is a total self-giving of the spouses to each other, holding nothing back, whereas contraception holds back one’s fertility.
Pope St John Paul II explains this in his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio in 1981: “When couples, by means of recourse to contraception, separate these two meanings [the unitive and the procreative] that God the Creator has inscribed in the being of man and woman and in the dynamism of their sexual communion, they act as ‘arbiters’ of the divine plan and they ‘manipulate’ and degrade human sexuality – and with it themselves and their married partner – by altering its value of ‘total’ self-giving. Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality” (FC 32).
Let us pray that all couples will realise the truth of these words and act accordingly.