Why is the Catholic Church against contraception?
Contraception is nothing new; history records people using various methods of birth control four thousand years ago. Ancient people swallowed potions to cause temporary sterility; they used linens, wool, or animal skins as barrier methods; they fumigated the uterus with poison to keep it from bearing life. The Romans practiced contraception, but the early Christians stood out from the pagan culture because they refused to use it.
Scripture condemns the act (Gen. 38:8-10), as did all Christian denominations before 1930. At that time the Anglican Church decided to allow contraception in some circumstances. They soon gave in on the issue altogether, and before long virtually all Protestant denominations followed suit. Yet the Catholic Church stands fast on the teaching of historic Christianity. But why? Why doesn’t the Church “get with the times”?
The modern world has trouble understanding the Church’s stance on contraception because the world does not know the purpose of sex. The writer Frank Sheed said that “modern man practically never thinks about sex.” He dreams of it, craves it, pictures it, drools over it, but never pauses to actually think about it. Sheed continued: “Our typical modern man, when he gives his mind to it at all, thinks of sex as something we are lucky enough to have; and he sees all its problems rolled into the one problem of how to get the most pleasure out of it.”
But we should put more thought into the matter. Who invented sex? What is sex? What is its purpose? What is it worth? For starters, God invented sex. Since he is its author, he has the authority to determine its purpose and meaning. God has revealed that the purposes of sex are procreation and union (babies and bonding), and that the sexual act can be thought of as the wedding vows and promises made flesh. On a couple’s wedding day, they promise that their love will be free, faithful, total, and open to life. Each act of marital intercourse should be a renewal of these vows.
Some couples say that they will be open to life but will contracept between kids. In other words, they will be completely open to life—except when they sterilize their acts of love. Imagine if they had the same mentality with other parts of the wedding vows.
Can a wife say she is faithful except when she has affairs? Can she say that she will give herself totally to her husband as long as he’s rich? Can a husband say the marital act is free except when he forces himself upon his wife? All this is absurd, but contracepting couples contradict their own vows in a similar way when they refuse to be open to God’s gift of life. When it comes down to it, they are afraid of what sex means.
But sex is more than the wedding vows made flesh. It is also a reflection of the life-giving love of the Trinity. In the words of Carlo Cardinal Martini, “In the Bible, the man-woman couple is not meant to be simply a preservation of the species, as is the case for the other animals. Insofar as it was called to become the image and likeness of God, it expresses in a bodily, tangible way the face of God, which is Love.”
God’s plan for us to love as he loves is stamped into our very being, and so there is really only one question to ask when it comes to sexual morality: “Am I expressing God’s love through my body?” When a married couple does this, they become what they are—an image of Trinitarian love—and through this they unveil the love of God to the world. The act of life-giving love between a husband and wife is also meant to be a mirror of the love Christ has for his Church. We should ask ourselves: “If we consider the relationship between Christ and his Church, where does contraception fit into the picture? What is contraceptive about Christ’s love?”
Beyond the theological implications, consider the consequences of contraception in society. When contraception spread among Christians, the Catholic Church warned about the harm it would inflict on relationships. Rates of marital infidelity would increase because spouses could be unfaithful without fear of pregnancy. Since contraception offers an easy way to elude the natural consequences of the moral law, there would be a general lowering of morality. The Church also “feared that the man, growing used to the employment of anti-conceptive practices, may finally lose respect for the woman, and no longer caring for her physical and psychological equilibrium, may come to the point of considering her a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.”
Furthermore, if people could separate making love from making life, then why would those acts that are unable to make life (homosexual sex or masturbation) be forbidden? With the increase in contraceptive use, it would become increasingly difficult to view sexuality as a sign of God’s love.
Some argue that the Church restricts women’s freedom by opposing contraception. However, the sour fruit of contraceptive “liberation” is manifested most clearly not by arguments but by the lives of those who accept such false ideas of freedom. Consider the following question that one young woman sent to Dear Abby: “I am a twenty-three-year-old liberated woman who has been on the Pill for two years. It’s getting pretty expensive and I think my boyfriend should share half the cost, but I don’t know him well enough to discuss money with him.” In the words of Christopher West, “If the real problem behind women’s oppression is men’s failure to treat them properly as persons, contraception is a sure way to keep women in chains.”
The earliest feminists opposed contraception for this reason, and some modern feminists still realize that contraception is the enemy of women’s liberation. Also, anthropologists who study the origin and destruction of civilizations have noted that societies that do not direct their sexual energies toward the good of marriage and family begin to crumble.
Therefore the Church does not hesitate to point out the vast implications of contraception. The love between a husband and wife holds a marriage together. A strong marriage holds the family together. Strong families hold society together, and a civilization will stand or fall upon this. “The future of humanity,” according to the Church, “passes by way of the family.”
If it can be shown that contraception compromises intimacy between a husband and wife, invites selfishness into the marital act, and opens a door for greater infidelity, then contraception is a cancer to civilization itself.
. St. Augustine, Marriage and Concupiscence 1:15:17 (a.d. 419), St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans 24 (a.d. 391), and others (catholic.com/ library/Contraception and Sterilization.asp).
. Frank Sheed, Society and Sanity (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1953), 107.
. Cardinal Carlo Martini, On the Body (New York: Crossroad Publishing Co., 2000), 49.
. Pope Paul VI, encyclical letter, Humanae Vitae 17 (Of Human Life) (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 1997).
. Abigail Van Buren, The Best of Dear Abby (New York: Andrews and McMeel, 1981), 242. As quoted in Donald DeMarco, New Perspectives on Contraception (Dayton, Ohio: One More Soul, 1999), 42.
. Christopher West, Good News About Sex and Marriage, (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Publications, 2000), 122.
. Donald DeMarco, “Contraception and the Trivialization of Sex” (https://www.cuf.org/Laywitness/Online_view.asp?lwID=670).
. DeMarco, New Perspectives on Contraception, 89.
. Pope John Paul II, apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio 86 (The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World) (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 1981).