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Author Topic: Non-abortive contraception in marriage?  (Read 3356 times) Average Rating: 0
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« on: May 14, 2007, 06:41:28 PM »

Dear members of the forum,

Can one use non-abortive contraception in one's marriage for non-egotistic purposes (e.g. to limit the number of children for the sake of the other spouse's career and for the well-being of already born children; for spacing between children; for prevention of severe health hazards - like in case of immunologic conflict between spouses, when every next pregnancy leads to a more and more severe miscarriage, etc.)?

Thank you in advance for your answers.

George
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« Reply #1 on: May 14, 2007, 06:47:54 PM »

There have been lots of threads on this already, and it has been debated exhaustively. I know that the search feature is broken, but would you mind having a look at some of the previous threads and commenting as necessary there?
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« Reply #2 on: May 14, 2007, 06:49:07 PM »

Sorry.
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« Reply #3 on: May 14, 2007, 06:50:30 PM »

Sorry.
No need to apologize--it's just that this topic really gets people going and it has been debated a lot on the forum so better to look up the many posts that have covered the topic comprehensively.
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« Reply #4 on: May 14, 2007, 07:19:20 PM »

Thank you, Anastasios. I have already found some links, for example here: http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,9236.0.html

Hard issue for me.
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« Reply #5 on: May 14, 2007, 08:26:46 PM »

No need to apologize--it's just that this topic really gets people going and it has been debated a lot on the forum so better to look up the many posts that have covered the topic comprehensively.

Ahhh, I was going to use this opportunity to yet again scandalize the more traditionalist members of the forum...then you come in being all diplomatic and such.

Oh well, I'll step back unless someone else fires an opening shot Wink Grin
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« Reply #6 on: May 14, 2007, 08:49:48 PM »

Oh well, I'll step back unless someone else fires an opening shot Wink Grin

Ready.

Aim.

.......

 Wink
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« Reply #7 on: May 14, 2007, 08:59:19 PM »

It's a pastoral issue, not something there's a hard and fast rule about.
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« Reply #8 on: May 14, 2007, 09:04:26 PM »

Okay, just a few thoughts on the subject that may be helpful.  Given that this is an internet forum, I cannot possibly take the time to write out a thoroughly cited research paper.  So, if you are not content with my summary contents, just email me and I will direct to useful sources, in case you want to do in depth study yourself.  I've spent quite a bit of time studying this issue.  Here it goes:

First, it was the nearly universal opinion of the early Church fathers that sex was only for procreation.  Any sexual activity undertaken in order to take advantage of infertility (such as sex during pregnancy and mensus) was frowned upon, sometimes with canonical penalties.  The fathers were opposed to all birth control, including what is now called NFP.  In fact, St. Augustine in a letter against the Manicheans explicitly condemns the rhythm method.  Even in Roman Catholic circles, one does not begin to get the notion that using the infertile period is not sinful until the late 19th century.  Humanae Vitae was revolutionary in explicitly endorsing the so-called "natural" methods of birth control.  For the vast majority of Christian history, there were only two choices; have intercourse and accept children when they come or completely abstain.  In the early Church, post-menopausal couples were even encouraged to be celibate.

What does this mean?  It means that no Church today follows what the fathers taught; except the really strict traditionalists (both Orthodox and Roman) who are opposed to all attempts to avoid conception, even NFP.  And, really what is the difference between NFP and non-abortifacient birth control (through condoms or whatever)?  How is using a thermometer or scientifically checking one's bodily fluids "natural"?  The fact is that one is still using human reason (cunning) and technology in order to take advantage of an accidental state that happens in nature.  The intent is no different.

So, if one is to be consistent, one must either condemn all forms of birth control (including NFP) or one must permit any non-abortifacient form of birth control that does not have other moral problems (obviously masturbation, etc. is out of bounds).  I can respect the rigorist position, even though I don't agree with it.  My own view is that the fathers did not adequately distinguish between abortifacient methods and non-abortifacient methods; they were overly influenced by Platonism and Stoicism; and ancient contraception had its roots in paganism and sorcery.  Given that situation, it is entirely understandable that the fathers thought what they did.  But the fathers also endorsed slavery (with a few notable exceptions such as St. Gregory of Nyssa), and opposed usury.

One final note.  We Orthodox who endorse the notion that there are serious circumstances in which one may use birth control, are not saying, "ra ra! yeah birth control! let's do it whenever we want!"  All Orthodox are expected to keep the fasts which means no marital relations.  And, the use of birth control is always less than ideal and only permitted by way of pastoral dispensation (oiconomia).  Well, that's all I have to say.

Joe
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« Reply #9 on: May 14, 2007, 09:06:53 PM »

Ah, my efforts to keep this isolated to the past thread....to no avail Smiley
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« Reply #10 on: May 14, 2007, 09:13:17 PM »

Okay, just a few thoughts on the subject that may be helpful.  Given that this is an internet forum, I cannot possibly take the time to write out a thoroughly cited research paper.  So, if you are not content with my summary contents, just email me and I will direct to useful sources, in case you want to do in depth study yourself.  I've spent quite a bit of time studying this issue.  Here it goes:

First, it was the nearly universal opinion of the early Church fathers that sex was only for procreation.  Any sexual activity undertaken in order to take advantage of infertility (such as sex during pregnancy and mensus) was frowned upon, sometimes with canonical penalties.  The fathers were opposed to all birth control, including what is now called NFP.  In fact, St. Augustine in a letter against the Manicheans explicitly condemns the rhythm method.  Even in Roman Catholic circles, one does not begin to get the notion that using the infertile period is not sinful until the late 19th century.  Humanae Vitae was revolutionary in explicitly endorsing the so-called "natural" methods of birth control.  For the vast majority of Christian history, there were only two choices; have intercourse and accept children when they come or completely abstain.  In the early Church, post-menopausal couples were even encouraged to be celibate.

What does this mean?  It means that no Church today follows what the fathers taught; except the really strict traditionalists (both Orthodox and Roman) who are opposed to all attempts to avoid conception, even NFP.  And, really what is the difference between NFP and non-abortifacient birth control (through condoms or whatever)?  How is using a thermometer or scientifically checking one's bodily fluids "natural"?  The fact is that one is still using human reason (cunning) and technology in order to take advantage of an accidental state that happens in nature.  The intent is no different.

So, if one is to be consistent, one must either condemn all forms of birth control (including NFP) or one must permit any non-abortifacient form of birth control that does not have other moral problems (obviously masturbation, etc. is out of bounds).  I can respect the rigorist position, even though I don't agree with it.  My own view is that the fathers did not adequately distinguish between abortifacient methods and non-abortifacient methods; they were overly influenced by Platonism and Stoicism; and ancient contraception had its roots in paganism and sorcery.  Given that situation, it is entirely understandable that the fathers thought what they did.  But the fathers also endorsed slavery (with a few notable exceptions such as St. Gregory of Nyssa), and opposed usury.

One final note.  We Orthodox who endorse the notion that there are serious circumstances in which one may use birth control, are not saying, "ra ra! yeah birth control! let's do it whenever we want!"  All Orthodox are expected to keep the fasts which means no marital relations.  And, the use of birth control is always less than ideal and only permitted by way of pastoral dispensation (oiconomia).  Well, that's all I have to say.

Joe

I mentioned this before but the Fathers also did not understand human biology. They believed that man implanted a complete human being into the woman. The woman was only the "soil" for the man's "seed." So any form of contraception was viewed with the same lense as abortion. They assumed a complete human being was being murdered each time the seed was wasted or inhibited.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why there is more pastoral dispensation for the use of non-abortive methods of contraception today.
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« Reply #11 on: May 14, 2007, 09:16:45 PM »

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why there is more pastoral dispensation for the use of non-abortive methods of contraception today.

And perhaps another reason why we should not be basing our lives on uneducated old men who lived 1500 or more years ago.

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« Reply #12 on: May 14, 2007, 09:21:00 PM »

I mentioned this before but the Fathers also did not understand human biology. They believed that man implanted a complete human being into the woman. The woman was only the "soil" for the man's "seed." So any form of contraception was viewed with the same lense as abortion. They assumed a complete human being was being murdered each time the seed was wasted or inhibited.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why there is more pastoral dispensation for the use of non-abortive methods of contraception today.

Yes Tamara, that is exactly right.  And ironically enough, in passages of the fathers where they do distinguish between birth control that prevents conception and that which doesn't, they generally think that what we would call "non-abortifacient" contraception is worse and still a form of murder.  I remember a famous quote of St. John Chrysostom where he calls those who prevent conception "worse than murderers."  Of course, this is factually not true.  But it betrays their fundamental attitude toward sex which was basically (my words here): "if you have to, go ahead, but only for the sake of children and make sure that it is in the dark with the man on top and that it is as quiet as possible.  it it doesn't hurt to try to minimize the physical pleasure either" (per the instructions of St. Clement of Alexandria).  The fact of the matter is that for most of Christian history, the vast majority of Christians thought that sex in marriage was permissible under strict conditions, but less than ideal and something to be embarrassed about.  And I am really not exaggerating that much.  By the way, many of these fathers thought that sexual relations were either a result of the fall or permitted by God in light of the fall.  Many fathers (such as St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Maximos the Confessor) thought that human beings were originally intended to be hermaphrodites and that we would only procreate spiritually.  St. Augustine thought that there would have been sexual relations prior to the fall but they would have been without any spontaneous physical desire.  Rather, we would have taken spiritual pleasure in rationally commanding our members to perform their function (see the City of God).  There you have it.

Joe
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« Reply #13 on: May 14, 2007, 09:36:04 PM »

JSO

I agree with you when it comes to NFP, though I think it's an overstatement to say that "it was the nearly universal opinion of the early Church fathers that sex was only for procreation". At the very least, many Fathers believed that avoiding and/or eliminating lust was a justifiable reason to have sex. Of course, sometimes Fathers disagreed with each other, and even disagreed with their own views. To give on example, Chrysostom said early on that sex could only be justified because of the possibility of procreation, though later softened his position and included avoiding fornication as a valid justification (cf John T. Noonan, Contraception: A History of Its Treatment By the Catholic Theologians and Canonists, [Harvard University Press, 1965], p. 78)
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« Reply #14 on: May 14, 2007, 09:39:16 PM »

EA had some really good points on this issue about a year ago , basically stating his Bishop's position that preventative is ok , abortive is not acceptable.
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« Reply #15 on: May 14, 2007, 09:39:51 PM »

JSO

I agree with you when it comes to NFP, though I think it's an overstatement to say that "it was the nearly universal opinion of the early Church fathers that sex was only for procreation". At the very least, many Fathers believed that avoiding and/or eliminating lust was a justifiable reason to have sex. Of course, sometimes Fathers disagreed with each other, and even disagreed with their own views. To give on example, Chrysostom said early on that sex could only be justified because of the possibility of procreation, though later softened his position and included avoiding fornication as a valid justification (cf John T. Noonan, Contraception: A History of Its Treatment By the Catholic Theologians and Canonists, [Harvard University Press, 1965], p. 78)

Yes, very true.  But, what we get from the fathers is still a far cry from what I hear today, that sex is "a sacrament and holy."  Actually, the later Chrysostom would come closer to this idea and St. Athanasius seems to have held that idea but most of the fathers, especially the Alexandrians, did not.

Joe
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« Reply #16 on: May 14, 2007, 10:02:20 PM »

Contraception is sinful. When it is allowed by economy for extreme reasons, it is still missing the mark.

The Fathers knew the nature of man much better than TomS Smiley
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« Reply #17 on: May 14, 2007, 10:08:14 PM »

Contraception is sinful. When it is allowed by economy for extreme reasons, it is still missing the mark.

The Fathers knew the nature of man much better than TomS Smiley

I certainly agree that contraception is less than ideal and is, in a sense, "missing the mark."  And, contra TomS Smiley, the fathers were more educated than most of us here (including myself).  This was something that bugged me when my wife and I were getting NFP counseling as Catholics.  We were being encouraged to pursue NFP as a sacramental lifestyle.  It sounded good at first, until I really studied the fathers on sex.  Then I was left scratching my head.  Even in the Roman Church, NFP is supposed to be the exception, not the norm, and one is not supposed to pursue it as a lifestyle.  But, you rarely hear about this from Roman Catholic NFP counselors.  What you do hear about is how great NFP is because it is more effective than the pill (99% effective).  Supposedly, if you are using NFP, you are more open to life than someone using a condom or the pill, but some condom and pill success rates are 90-98%, I could never quite figure out the reasoning there.  By the way, many traditional Roman Catholics are not happy with Humanae Vitae or NFP at all.  They rightly see it as a liberal document and practice and one that is not in the spirit of the tradition.

That being said, I think that it is up to the bishops and priests to determine when the principle of oiconomia should be employed to permit birth control (whatever form one uses), and that it should always be understood that permission to use birth control is an exception and not the norm.  A couple who regularly uses birth control in order to avoid conception and does so without a serious reason is sinning according to the Church.

Joe
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« Reply #18 on: May 14, 2007, 10:12:03 PM »

Contraception is sinful. When it is allowed by economy for extreme reasons, it is still missing the mark.

I get the attitude that our allowance for remarriage after divorce is much the same: the result of very serious sin, therefore missing the mark of what marriage is intended to be, but allowed in some circumstances for pastoral reasons.  However, the specific subject of this post is more appropriate for another thread; I just brought it up here as a helpful analogy.
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« Reply #19 on: May 14, 2007, 11:42:25 PM »

The Fathers knew the nature of man much better than TomS Smiley

Are you sure about that? At the end of the day, TomS usually makes a lot more sense than any given father. Wink
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« Reply #20 on: May 15, 2007, 09:48:29 AM »

The reason I wrote that this is a very hard issue to me is that in our marrage, after our first and only child was born, my wife and I had terrible problems when we tried to use the so-called natural method of birth control. Terrible, painful, bloody miscarrages. So we decided to use "unnatural" (although non-abortive) contraception. We still use it. Being Orthodox, I want to be obedient to the will of my Church, but if I say that couples must stay away from any "unnatural" contraception because it is sinful, I'll be a hypocrite.
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« Reply #21 on: May 15, 2007, 09:54:52 AM »

The reason I wrote that this is a very hard issue to me is that in our marrage, after our first and only child was born, my wife and I had terrible problems when we tried to use the so-called natural method of birth control. Terrible, painful, bloody miscarrages. So we decided to use "unnatural" (although non-abortive) contraception. We still use it. Being Orthodox, I want to be obedient to the will of my Church, but if I say that couples must stay away from any "unnatural" contraception because it is sinful, I'll be a hypocrite.

In cases like this, generally, you would be given a blessing to use some type of barrier method presuming you could not abstain from sex during fertile periods (I don't know what natural method you used, but the NFP method is pretty accurate as compared to rhythm methods of 20 years ago. But the specifics of your situation are not something we should discuss online).  I'd say talk to your priest on this one--if every time you are producing a miscarriage then that is definitely an "extreme circumstance."
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« Reply #22 on: May 15, 2007, 12:54:30 PM »

Thank you, Athanasios, that was a very kind and thoughtful answer. I am already 49 and my wife is 50, so for the two of us, this issue will probably soon disappear... but I was more concerned about younger people who are like us, i.e., who have trouble *unless* they resort to what you call barrier methods. One acquaintance of mine who is a Ukrainian Greek Catholic (Uniate) says in cases like this, "Hey, look, but that's great! Listen to God, He is calling you to chastity! Give up sex altogether, all of the Holy Fathers taught that it is an awful bestial cattle-like thing, the direct result of the human lapse into sin..." The Catholic Church is awfully rigid in this issue, too: no unnatural contraception, no "barriers" whatsoever, period, end of discussion. I am very happy that my Orthodox Church is kinder, gentler, less dogmatic and more "pastoral" in these questions. Thanks again, --George
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