What Scriptures Prohibit Contraception?


Q. I would be interested to see biblical proof that God is against contraception. I know that Genesis 38:8-10 talks of Onan spilling his seed, but God was mad at Onan for not obeying him, I don’t believe it was necessarily the act he committed. If you read the verse prior in 6 & 7 it says that Judah’s firstborn was wicked so God put him to death. This is what he was indicating when he said he slew him too.

A.Yes, Onan too was wicked. Onan partook of sexual pleasure with his brother’s wife but contracepted by spilling his seed. That was his explicit intent. He was not obligated to give his brother’s wife an heir upon pain of death. God did not kill him b/c he didn’t want to give offspring to his brother. This is explicitly laid down in the Law. Punishment for not giving a dead brother offspring was a ceremony of humiliation, not death.

Deut 25:5When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, …Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her 6“It shall be that the firstborn whom she bears shall assume the name of his dead brother, so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel 7“But if the man does not desire to take his brother’s wife, …8“Then the elders of his city shall summon him and speak to him. And if he persists and says, ‘I do not desire to take her, 9 then his brother’s wife shall come to him in the sight of the elders, and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face; and she shall declare, ‘Thus it is done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house. 10“In Israel his name shall be called, ‘The house of him whose sandal is removed.’

That is a far cry from execution.
Q. I also believe that God would not look down on a woman who prevents pregnancy because she has a medical condition that would either cause harm to her or the baby.

A. I agree with you.

Q. I had a friend who had 8 miscarriages because of a medical problem. It would be unwise for her to try for any more.

A. Unwise? If she just can’t bear another miscarriage or it would truly be a threat to her life, then her husband and she must agree out of charity to either adopt in order to have a child and/or abstain from intercourse during fertile times using NFP.
Q. I also have a friend who has a rare blood clotting disorder that endangers her life each time she gets pregnant. She has come close to dying with each child. After having her second child, she threw blood clots to her lungs and legs. They cannot give her any more medication for these clots again. If she has another child, she will sentence herself and her child to death. She will also leave her other two children motherless and her husband wifeless.

A. Then both her husband and she have a duty to avoid pregnancy. They may need to live as Mary and Joseph lived–in complete chastity, devoting themselves to God and their family in order to preserve the life of the mother. They will not die from abstinence. In fact, the self denial involved in this life will undoubtedly lead them closer to God, each other, and holiness.
Q. Yes she has faith, which is the reason she did not abort when so many specialist said it was the only way she could survive.

A. A noble, and holy woman.

Q. But, although we live by faith, we have to use common sense.

A. You mean that the husband should be allowed to indulge himself ?

And which methold of contraception would you stake your life on?

Abortion as a back up? Killing an innocent child just so they can have pleasure?

Q. I have faith that God will protect me, but I will not stand in the way of a moving train and expect to be saved from death.

A. Just don’t do it, then.

This just in: January 13, 2009

New study links oral contraceptives to increased incidence of breast cancer. But will we hear about this in the politically correct press?

Click HERE for the aticle at American Journal of Epidemiology

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17 Responses to What Scriptures Prohibit Contraception?

  1. Michael says:

    Scriptural exegetes differ in interpretation of Gen. 38:8-10. An authentic interpretation is entrusted exclusively to the living Magisterium. While Pius XI used the text as a scriptural witness to the Church’s teaching on contraception, neither Paul VI, nor John Paul II AFAIK, endorsed it in their documents; Benedict XVI hasn’t addressed the subject thus far. So, one cannot claim that there is a consensus of the Universal Ordinary Magisterium on the relevance of the Onan case. One-off assertion by one pope doesn’t necessarily articulate the faith of the Church.

    While it is true that the promoters of contraception have vested interest in suppressing information on its potentially harmful effect on health and morality in general, we shouldn’t be pleased if there is such harmful effect, because the contraceptives can be useful for non-contraceptive purposes.

    Whether the“(n)ew study links oral contraceptives to increased incidence of breast cancer” or not, is not only irrelevant, but can be construed as a consequential argument against contraception – consequentionalism, as a method of moral judgement, has been deplored by the magisterium – with the implication: so, the contraception is not wrong in itself but because of the consequences -cancer in this case – from which it follows: if the contraceptives which do not cause cancer were developed, the contraception wouldn’t be wrong.

    A Catholic by definition assents to the teaching of the Church, including the teaching on contraception, but it is better to rely on “the Church teaches so, and I am Catholic” than to propose bad arguments to “prove” that this teaching is true.

  2. bfhu says:

    Michael,

    I use the Genesis passage along with the Deut. passage to dispute the Protestant contention that Scripture doesn’t condemn contraception. I think it clearly does and many early fathers used the Gen. passage also.

    Understanding the Biblical, apostolic, and historical underpinnings of the teachings of the Church is encouraged by the Church and increases the firmness of our Faith in the teachings of the Church.

    As for consequentialism, God’s laws should be followed out of love for God. That is the highest and most pleasing reason. But out of charity, we warn people of the consequences of disobedience. God also forbade pork to the Israelites. And as we know pork can have trichinosis. Now that we know that cooking pork very well will kill the trichinosis it doesn’t change the law for the Jews. Same for extramarital sex and STDs & AIDS.

    God’s laws are good for us in a multifaceted way. Certain physical diseases are just one type of consequence for disobeying God’s law. I am NOT saying that all disease is a direct consequence for a specific sin. The goodness and mercy that comes from obeying God is thus poured out on the believer and the unbeliever.

  3. Michael says:

    BHFU
    A Catholic, regardless of good intention, cannot interpret the “Genesis passage along with the Deut. Passage” in a way different than the Genesis passage is used by the Magisterium (DV 10/2). If it were clear that the Scripture condemns contraception, the recent Magisterium would have used it.

    Where did you find that “many early fathers used the Gen. passage also”? Pius XI used only Augustine; Paul VI and JP II – none. They do not need your supplement.

    The “Biblical, apostolic, and historical underpinnings” is the Scripture + Tradition (of which you have a defective notion, evident from the debate with Constantine – see Trent, Vatican I, DV and CCC), both of which are covered by DV 10/2, and to take liberty of interpreting these witnesses of Faith on one’s own, cannot but lead to confusing the teaching of the Church with one’s own make-out of it; and promote the latter in public, cannot possibly be “encouraged by the Church” or “increase(s) the firmness of our Faith in the teachings of the Church”.

    As to the remaining two paragraphs, try to find any support for it in the documents of the Magisterium, or an approved manual of moral and pastoral theology, or in the CCC, and come back with your findings. Our Faith is not a DIY product.

    If you wish to undertake a sound study of Moral Theology, google the “Welcome to the Catholic Church”. It is a CD ($100 or so) which covers all three Grisez’ Volumes (The Way of the Lord Jesus, 3×900 pages, which are obtainable from the Alba House New York for, ca. $120 total), St.Thomas’ Summa Theol.., documents of the Magisterium, Bible etc., and the seller might give you one free access to the text. Prof. Grisez and his group were a force behind the Enyclical Varitatis Splendor (which, among other general principles of morality, dealt with the consequentionalism) and he was in Rome all the time while John XXIII/Paul VI Commission on “Birth Control” was working, personally advising Fr.Ford who was a member of the “minority”. He and Prof. May (John Paul Institute of Marriage and Family) have published a legion of articles on contraception. Ford and Grisez published the famous essay: Contraception and Infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium, Theol. Studies, June 1978, pp. 258-312.

    As to your advice to the couple in trouble, these things are for a confessional not for the public consumption, because they could be easily misunderstood when applied to a concrete situation, and rock the marriage.

  4. bfhu says:

    Michael: A Catholic, regardless of good intention,
    cannot interpret the “Genesis passage along with the Deut. Passage” in a way different than the Genesis passage is used by the Magisterium (DV 10/2).

    BFHU: That would be absolutely correct. But prove to us that the Magesterium interprets it differently. The fact that it was not quoted recently does not prove anything.

    Michael: Where did you find that “many early fathers used the Gen. passage also”?

    BFHU: I misspoke about the Fathers and Onan. I was remembering the many citations regarding contraception, sterilization and abortion. But below is citation of Jerome’s.

    Jerome: 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]).

    Below is a quote from Encyclopedia Judaica (Vol.4,p.1054, article “Birth Control”)

    “[Onan misused the organs God gave him for propagating the race to unnaturally satisfy his own lust, and he was therefore deserving death.”

    For a list of quotes from the Fathers of the Church on Contraception click Here Catholic Answers Article on The Fathers: Contraception and Sterilization.

  5. Michael says:

    BFHU
    “But prove to us that the magisterium interprets it differently. The fact that it was not quoted recently does not prove anything.”

    It does prove, because only five popes dealt with contraception – all recent, after Pius XI, and no Ecumenical Council other than Vatican II. The Pius XII Encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu was a green light to the modern Catholic biblical exegesis, not known to Pius XI, which exegesis was at best divided on the relevance of the Onan story. Surely, they knew Deuteronomy. Why exactly Pius XII and others after him, while endorsing Pius XI teaching on contraception, chose to avoid Onan story, I do not know, but it is reasonable to assume that they were reluctant because of the results of post-DAS exegesis. That is what Hans Kung suggests with regard to Paul VI (Infallibility? En Enquiry). The popes are not biblical scholars, but take advice from them when writing documents. Even Ford/Grisez, who are dedicated supporters of the Church teaching, take a reserved position on the relevance of it, in itself. The frequent use of Onan story, has, however, another significance in the context of the Infallibility of the OM, but I can’t go into it here.

    I can, if you wish, tell you what I think about the relevance, but it would mean embarking on a DIY biblical exegesis and dogmatic/moral theology, which I myself would not esteem highly – exactly what I am trying to discourage.

    “…many citations regarding contraception, sterilisation and abortion”, let’s scrap the last two. There are only four Fathers I know of, from Ford/Grisez, and they relied on the extensive research by Noonan (Contraception – A history of its treatment by the Catholic theologians and canonists): Chrysostom, Augustine, Jerome, and Epiphanius. Chrysostom is not quite clear, one could possibly add Ambrose, also unclear; while Jerome relies on his own traslation of the Hebrew text, which doesn’t entirely agree with the critical Hebrew text as known to us.
    (Ford/Grisez mention Jewish rabinic sources of the kind you quote, but this is irrelevant in the context.) These Fathers have Onan in mind only – so it seems, which is only one instance of contraception.They do not mention other forms. The Onan case itself, if it proves anything, it proves that the coitus interruptus is evil, nothing else.

  6. Nan says:

    I would question Hans Kung as an appropriate reference; while he is still a priest in good standing, my understanding is that his authority to teach Catholic theology was rescinded.

  7. Michael says:

    Nan
    One must know how to discern his false view from data he incidentally mentions, like that one I mentioned, the context of which, and evaluation, can be known/assessed only by those who read his book, not by those who learn about it from others.

    But, please, do not take this as a suggestion to read it yourself unless you are fully familiar with the Catholic fundamental and dogmatic theology, because his persuasive and easy style can mislead those who are naive.

    In fact, before Ford/Grisez published their essay, he had on some hunded pages of that book offered (a)evidence that the doctrine on Contraception has been proposed infallibly by the Ordinary Magisterium, i.e. that it meets criteria of what he calls “Roman” doctrine, and (b)that the latter had been, endorsed by the Vatican II. I am sure, every pope would approve this part of his book.

  8. bfhu says:

    Michael,
    I am very free to interpret scripture without having to find a precedent somewhere in the documents or Fathers of the Church as long as my interpretation is THINKING WITH THE CHURCH, doesn’t contradict any Church teaching or lead to heresy in some way.

    But there is precedent for interpreting the Scriptures in Genesis 38 and Deuteronomy 25, as scriptural evidence against the use of contraception. The fact that the Fathers and documents are not full of these citations means nothing since Sola Scriptura is a Protestant invention and the Catholic Church does not, nor has it ever adhered to it. Therefore, we don’t find the Protestant method of backing up every assertion or teaching with a citation of Scripture in the documents of the Catholic Church.

    You might find this article interesting Birth Control and Genesis 38

  9. Joel says:

    Michael,
    If we are to assume that any statement to the effect that sexual relations are to be indulged in only for the procreation of children as a condemnation of the use of birth control then we can say Justin Martyr, Athenagoras (an apologist to Marcus Aurelius and Commodus), Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Methodius, Lactantius and the Apostolic Constitutions all condemn the use of birth control. The methods of birth control of their day were no different than the methods of our day. They used both chemical and mechanical means to acheive their ends. While none of these people were pope I think it is fair to say, by witness of the diverse witness and high visability of the authors within the Church that the condemnation of the use of birth control was a universal teaching starting in the beginning of the Second Century (and probably sooner).

  10. Michael says:

    BFHU
    I suggest, try to find the assertion made in the first paragraph, or anything like it, in any document of the Magisterium, or in any of the Auctores Probati. If you can’t find, you are not “thinking with the Church”. Can’t you see that it is your own construction?

    Re: second paragraph, Genesis 38 is frequently quoted, not by the “many” Fathers however, but the link with Deuteronomy 25 is, again, of your own making unless you can list a substantial number of other Catholic sources which count as the witnesses of faith. Whatever the case – and this is relevant to the first paragraph – read DV 10/2, learn it by heart, and adhere to it. Otherwise, you are thinking with Luther. The rest of the paragraph is irrelevant to what I have said thus far.

    Re: recommended essay. It is not a scholarly text, certainly not written by a modern Catholic biblical scholar. The author seems a DIY-er, who is not interested in establishing the literal sense of Gen. 38, but wants to manipulate it to “prove” his point. You have in DV 12 how the Bible should be interpreted, briefly. More details: Divino Afflante Spiritu, which also tells you what the Church expects of biblical scholars.

    JOEL
    I know all that, and had it in mind in the course of correspondence. It is all accounted for in Noonan, who was – by the way – a member of the Papal “BC” Commission, and actually one of the “majority”.

  11. bfhu says:

    Michael,
    You are just wrong regarding a lay Catholic reading and interpreting scripture. We have much more freedom than you seem to think we do. I read DV and I understand it but there is no official Commentary and Interpretation of Sacred Scripture of the Catholic Church (CISSCC) :) . The interpretation of scripture is rarely dogmatically defined. If in my use of scripture I have erred against the teachings of the Church show it to me. I have supported the Church’s teaching against the use of contraception. If I were to to be shown what and why what I have written is against the teachings of the Church I would gladly recant. But your assertion that a lack of Official Church documentation of my interpretation makes me thinking with Luther rather than the Church is just plain silly. You are trying to box us in to a standard you think we hold to but you are just wrong. The Church is not as authoritarian, bossy, and imperious as you seem to believe it is or want it to be.

    What according to you, is illogical or nonsensical with my use of Gen. 38 and Deut. 25? It makes perfect sense to me.

  12. Michael says:

    BFHU
    Let me have a break until after Easter. Holy Lent to all!

  13. bfhu says:

    Have a Blessed Lent and Easter.

  14. JC says:

    A couple thoughts, from someone whose attitude on this subject is more towards _Casti Connubii_ than _Humanae Vitae_, and who strongly finds _Lumen Gentium_ a tad scandalous.

    1. The woman who has multiple miscarraiges, as said, has no real reason *not* to try again. That’s just stupid. “I had five kids, and they all died of a congenital heart defect. I don’t want any more kids.” That’s not medical necessity. That’s cowardice.

    2. Traditional Catholic teaching is that it’s better to die than commit mortal sin. Total abstinence is possible for some couples of great virtue, and especially those for whom chastity comes easily (as the Fathers and psychology both attest that some people are given a natural gift for chastity, as others are given natural ease with other virtues).

    However, for most couples, it *is* impractical. Yes, abstinence never killed anyone physically, but it can kill people’s souls. And the argument that it brings couples together is not the experience of many couples.

    Often, those couples who endure extreme medical issues are the ones for whom abstinence is the greatest struggle, because their lives are so stressful. And they turn to the Church and the NFP Cops, and are told, “Obviously, you’re a sinful person who doesn’t have any virtue because you feel a desire to have marital relations with your spouse!”

    The model of the wife who shuts herself off in her own room and spends the rest of her marriage overlooking her husband’s porn and infidelity has too long been a sad model of Catholicism.

    If it’s a choice between “risking” pregnancy and putting one’s spouse in a state of mortal sin, a Catholic spouse is to choose intercourse. I also recall being taught in NFP class that, if you feel an especially strong desire for your spouse during fertile time, maybe it’s a sign God wants you to conceive.

    What happened to faith? What happened to sacrifice?

    All of that said, we’ve been using a variation of the Marquette Model (I say variation because we’ve never formally studied Marquette). We use a ClearPlan Fertility Monitor. We know exactly when ovulation occurs, and NFP is, for the most part, a lot easier.

    WIth four “stair steps” and a miscarriage, this is the longest we’ve gone in our marriage with no pregnancy.

  15. bfhu says:

    JC
    I agree with your comments in #1 & #2. And yes total abstinence with ease would be a gift.

    But I disagree that total abstinence kills the soul. On what do you base this statement?

    Periodic abstinence is much more likely for most people than total abstinence. I am sure that some couples don’t become closer during abstinence but I wonder if you are really talking about “couples”? or more likely the husband?

    If your statement is true that an NFP teacher told a couple struggling with near total abstinence and other health issues that,

    “Obviously, you’re a sinful person who doesn’t have any virtue because you feel a desire to have marital relations with your spouse!”

    was NOT in line with the Church. The sexual desire of spouses is a good of marriage and the Church even recommends Viagra, etc., if the man needs help. That teacher should be removed.

    I don’t understand your “model” of the Catholic wife who shuts herself in her room overlooking her husband’s porn and infidelity. Is this how she maintains her marriage? The Church approves of separation when necessary for legal and financial reasons. Are you denigrating her sacrifice? Yes, it is sad but certainly not her choice. She would much have preferred a faithful, sexually healthy, and loving husband. The alternative is divorce/remarriage.

    Please clarify your statement

    If it’s a choice between “risking” pregnancy and putting one’s spouse in a state
    of mortal sin, a Catholic spouse is to choose intercourse.

    Which mortal sin are we talking about?

    I also recall being
    taught in NFP class that,

    if you feel an especially strong desire for your
    spouse during fertile time, maybe it’s a sign God wants you to conceive.

    Maybe, maybe not. This is just an opinion NOT Church teaching. Glad to hear you are sucessful with NFP.

  16. Michael says:

    bfhu
    “What according to you, is illogical or nonsensical with my use of Gen. 38 and Deut. 25? It makes perfect sense to me.” – Interpretation of Scripture is not for DIY-ers: it requires many skills with which an ordinary lay-person is not equipped. I would consult as many scholarly commentaries as possible, and see how many, if any, take recourse to the Deut. 25 on this particular issue. If none, you have a chance to join scholarly community by publishing an important paper in a professional magazine, and to assist the Magisterium in providing a “biblical proof that God is against contraception” – if you believe that it is your discovery, or the Pope’s negligence.

    I didn’t find such recourse in commentaries and dictionaries/encyclopaedias, which are on my shelves. Perhaps, a reference if provided would be helpful.

    Once you ask me, the Onan story is, by its style and content, out of context of the place in which it is inserted, and it is probably not a historical event. Historical or not, it refers to the law which was either a common law at the time, or alleged time, of the incident; in which case one may suppose that the common law punishment might have been more severe than 200 years later (or whatever, ask Joel) when the written law was enacted, i.e. the recourse to the Deut 25 is an anachronism. Or, if the incident happened, or quasi-happened, at the time of enactment of the written law, and was inserted into the Gen 38 by the final redactor, it can be said that what God did by way of punishment, did not imply that a woman or anyone else might take liberty to do, and if so, again, the recourse to Deut. 25 is irrelevant.

    On the question why Onan was punished, the least likely reason was the “onanism” alone, because the act is nowhere else in the Bible mentioned as evil or forbidden, and even in this inspired story, the Sacred Author has put it in ambiguous context which does not permit a sound conclusion.

    The failure to act according to the Levirate Law is the central reason to which the “onanism” can be added as the means, but most convincing reason for the death penalty was cheating. Onan wanted inheritance, and chose to cheat both his sister-in-law and others, while pretending to fulfil the Law, and, according to the Hebrew text, did it repeatedly. Others might have been mislead – but not God.

    A Catholic is not “very free to interpret scripture”: such freedom is not sanctioned in any magisterial document. It is a typical Protestant attitude. “The office of interpreting the word of God, whether scriptural or traditional, has been entrusted exclusively to the living voice of the Church’s magisterium” (DV 10/2), and the reference is to Humani Generis; similar teaching is in Vatican I, and Trent. And it was adopted by the CCC.

    The procedure of interpretation is given in DV 12. It is for the scholars only, and aimed at providing the basis for the “Church’s judgement.” The Church has never produced a comprehensive commentary, but relies on scholars as the situation arises. They are overwhelmingly “implicit” rather than explicit. For example, an excellent commentary is the CCC, with its hundreds of references to the Scripture. All modern documents of the Magisterium contain numerous references too. The greatest commentary is the Liturgy, which is imbued with the scriptural language, and full of direct readings, suited to the context. Homilies are supposed to be about the readings, and should be carefully prepared.

    A Catholic is not advised to read the Bible without a sound commentary (22): he can misunderstand it without realizing it. It is the Protestants who believe that the reading of the Bible brings them closer to God, without the Church. Even the scholars are to put themselves “under the watchful eye of the sacred magisterium” (23). If a layman ventures to read the Bible, without an approved commentary and without sound knowledge of doctrine, he is putting himself in occasion to sin against Faith, and the occasion, thus freely chosen, is itself a sin.

    While a desire to support “the Church’s teaching against the use of contraception” is admirable, it should be done as the Church does it. And the Church has dropped the “biblical proof” because there is none, directly. One does a donkey service to the Church by supplementing an encyclical with his/her own scriptural “evidence”, which evidence the two recent popes have dropped because it is unreliable. All teaching documents are provided with biblical references if possible, and it is reasonable to assume that for the doctrine on contraception there was none, when after so many years of study the Pope chose to provide – none, even to omit one provided by Pius XI.

    Paul VI was massively ridiculed after publication of Humanae Vitae. Had he added the reference to Onan incident, he would still be ridiculed, and rightly so.

    Re: last three sentences of your comment. If possible, I’d prefer if you would not continue in that tone.

  17. useful articles…

    […]What Scriptures Prohibit Contraception? « The Black Cordelias[…]…

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