Wednesday, June 27, 2012

NFP Is Not Required

NFP is an interesting topic…there’s a lot of emotion behind it, even though it really affects only about 2-3% of the Catholic population, as far as I can tell. There’s a committed group of people seeking to increase its usage, and there are a few nitpicking, nattering babobs like yours truly who think that’s not such a good idea.

Some readers believe I’m running counter to Church teaching by questioning the wisdom of promoting NFP while neglecting the important detail that it should be used only for “serious reasons”.

Also under attack seems to be the notion that there might be venial sin involved in the marital act, due to our fallen nature and tendency toward concupiscence.
It seems to me that underlying these protestations is the following line of reasoning – which really permeates modern society’s thinking (especially if you leave out the reference to God):

Sex is good, all the time, for married couples, because it is a gift from God.

Sex is a way of expressing love between husband and wife – the “unitive” end of marriage.

Therefore, it is good for a married couple to be able to have sex when the woman is not fertile so that they can still enjoy the “unitive” end of the marital act while avoiding pregnancy.

(Actually…I think the militant homosexualists have hijacked this train of thought, expanding it to include sex between or among any number of people regardless of gender.)

In order to maintain this line of reasoning, there’s a tendency to dismiss saints like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas – who explicitly addressed the problem of sin and concupiscence within marriage – as being outdated; as having been “corrected” in some way; and as being “not infallible”.

These objections seem to be coming mainly from those who want to promote NFP, some of whom want to leave the “serious reasons” for its use in a nebulous state to be “discerned” by the couple. These promoters believe that NFP should be taught to and practiced by many couples for a variety of reasons, not just for avoidance of pregnancy.

However, I would like to remind all concerned that the Church has taught from the beginning that couples should “be fruitful and multiply”, and that God never added a caveat to be “responsible” or “prudent” in that effort. In addition, the language used by the Church in describing marriage up until Vatican II included the phrase “generous parenthood” (in fact, that phrase is still used, but it is combined with the adjective “prudent”, and practically supplanted by the adjective “responsible”. More on that in another upcoming post).

It is not appropriate or even prudent to simply dismiss all that has been written about marriage before Vatican II. For instance, Popes Pius XI and XII acknowledged that periodic continence was licit, but they certainly did not condone its widespread use. They also acknowledged the dangers of concupiscence in the marital act. Are we to assume that they were in error and that their errors have now also been “corrected”?

I think it’s also important to keep in mind that in every place where periodic continence is mentioned in a Church document – even in recent times – the warning about “serious reasons” is always included. There is always the reminder that a couple should not consider that they have ultimate control over the procreative end of their marriage, because that would be usurping God’s right.

And while we may find a number of papal documents acknowledging that use of periodic continence for serious reasons is a licit use of the knowledge of a woman’s fertile periods, in none of those documents is it written that periodic continence must be used by a married couple. Rather, periodic continence is allowed, but really not encouraged.

What is encouraged is the idea that “husband and wife be joined in an especially holy and pure love, not as adulterers love each other, but as Christ loved the Church.” That’s Pope Pius XI talking, in Casti Connubiis. He’s talking about chastity vs. concupiscence, about love vs. sex. He goes on to say:

The love, then, of which We are speaking is not that based on the passing lust of the moment nor does it consist in pleasing words only, but in the deep attachment of the heart which is expressed in action, since love is proved by deeds. This outward expression of love in the home demands not only mutual help but must go further; must have as its primary purpose that man and wife help each other day by day in forming and perfecting themselves in the interior life, so that through their partnership in life they may advance ever more and more in virtue. (par. 23)

In addition, Pope Pius XI has some sound suggestions for pre-marriage instruction, emphasizing obedience to the Church, where we may find the truth. He warns the faithful against “the overrated independence of private judgment and that false autonomy of human reason”, and says that if moral truth in general is difficult to discern without the help of the Church, then

…we must all the more pay attention to those things, which appertain to marriage where the inordinate desire for pleasure can attack frail human nature and easily deceive it and lead it astray. (par. 102)

And, interestingly enough, Pope Pius XI concludes that

Such wholesome instruction and religious training in regard to Christian marriage will be quite different from that exaggerated physiological education by means of which, in these times of ours, some reformers of married life make pretense of helping those joined in wedlock, laying much stress on these physiological matters, in which is learned rather the art of sinning in a subtle way than the virtue of living chastely. (par. 108)

That does give one pause, doesn’t it? 

Click on the NFP tab at the top of the page for a list of other NFP posts on this blog.


  1. Why don't you say anything about JPII or B16?

    The Church does grow in wisdom and grace. Yes, NFP is not required. However, it is not discouraged anymore than it is not encouraged.

    Those attempting to do it still need support.

  2. Yes,it IS discouraged in the sense that it is for use when there are "serious reasons".

    I will address JPII in subsequent posts when I address "responsible" parenthood and some of the ways Humanae Vitae drastically departs from the continuity of Church teaching in certain areas. At any rate, even JPII includes the caveat about "serious reasons".

  3. I have seen secular FAM promoters not discuss the importance of "grave/serious/just" reason, but they don't need to.

    The thing about promoting it as a Catholic: It's not my business to know whether or not their reason is "good enough" by my standards. That needs to be between the couple and their Confessor. When a couples seeks information on NFP, the biological facts are given, but the reasons are not discussed. That would be inappropriate for me or any promoter.

  4. Kate,
    I took a look at your blog about NFP I am shocked at what I saw. The post you wrote on Phase 2 ideas is the perfect example of the NFP abuse Jay has been talking about. Your advice is bad and you are encouraging people to sin. Abstaining means abstaining, not 'swimming toward the waterfall" with confession as a lifejacket. I don't know where you get these ideas but they are not in any way part of the teaching of the Church.

  5. Have you used NFP?

    If you haven't, then you really cannot talk. I do not encourage sin. But we are human and we will all sin. I encourage Confession and praying for the virtue of chastity. Prolonged abstinence can be done incorrectly and can damages relationships. Fear of sin is not how we are to understand chastity.

    1. Kate, You say prolonged abstinence can damage relationships. Have you ever thought that maybe it's NFP that's damaging the relationship? Especially in the way you are recommending?

    2. Prolonged abstinence is difficult, and yes, when NFP is done wrongly or selfishly, it can damage the relationship.

      But that is not an NFP problem, that is a marital problem that NFP has brought out.

      Couples must *get real* with their spouse when they have to abstain. Those who practice NFP know how it forces you to see your spouse, your sex life, yourself, and your faith in the most real way. It is raw, it is emotional, and it pushes us to be perfected in chastity. Which takes time. Chastity is a virtue, and it takes time to perfect.

      If you have not done it, you cannot understand it. This is something a couple experiences, it is not something shallow or to be taken lightly. It is not contraception, and it is not evil.

      NFP Abstinence is one of the most loving things a spouse can do. It is one of the most selfless things a spouse can do.

  6. Kate...really! Whether or not a person has used NFP does not determine the validity of their opinion on the topic. You can bet JPII never used NFP, and yet you are quite willing to let him talk! You want to see how fear of sin IS in fact related to marital chastity? Read the book of Tobit.

  7. I encourage intimacy in phase 2...not sin. I was address that.


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