Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sex for Pleasure: Always a Venial Sin?

I’m still thinking about whether “sex” is a gift from God – and if it is, does that mean that a couple should feel justified in using NFP (to avoid pregnancy) for whatever reason seems…well… “reasonable” to them?

The problem I see in our society today is the over-sexualization of…everything – including marriage. “If it feels good, do it!” That’s the message, and faithful Catholic couples don’t want to be seen as stodgy, or prudish, or ignorant about methods of birth control that will allow them to enjoy the marital act without worrying about babies. They don’t want to miss out on all the fun, so they get caught up in talking about how great sex is, and leaving out any reference to the procreation of offspring. (To wit: Gregory Popcak’s Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling sex book, which, no, I have not read, because I cannot get past the title. Period.)

But let’s think about marriage and the sexual act in context with each other – because it is in considering the two together that we can in any way maintain that “sex” is a “good”, a “gift from God”.  The marital act is, in fact, canonically essential to marriage – so much so that impotence is a diriment impediment[1] to marriage under Canon Law (c. 1084); sterility, however, “neither prohibits nor nullifies marriage” (c. 1084, §3). It is the marital act itself, then, that is required for a marriage to be valid.

Ever since the fall, it seems, marriage has been viewed as a means of preventing concupiscence from spilling over into immoral sexual relations. As St. Paul says, "...but if they cannot exercise self-control they should marry, for it is better to marry than to be on fire" (1Cor 7:9). That seems to acknowledge that our sinful nature must be dealt with some way or another, and also seems to admit that there will be sin in marriage. After all, even if “sex” is a gift from God, it has undoubtedly been corrupted by sin, making it susceptible to abuse – even within marriage.

St. Thomas Aquinas: Is there Sin in the Marital Act?

I think it’s also instructive to consider what St. Thomas Aquinas has to say about marriage in the Summa Theologica. In the Supplement, question 49 centers on “the marriage goods”, with Article 1 asking “Whether certain goods are necessary in order to excuse marriage?”

What does that mean, “to excuse marriage”?! Why does marriage need an “excuse”? To most married couples today, I think this would be quite a foreign question. We’ve been raised to believe that “sex is good”, and that there is no reason not to enjoy the pleasure of sex. (And really, it seems that a sizable proportion of the population believes that there’s no reason not to enjoy that pleasure even outside of marriage, as long as it’s “protected sex”.) But what St. Thomas is saying is that there may be some sin involved in the marital act, so we need to examine whether there is something so good in marriage itself that it overcomes the sin of the marital act. (More on this below.)

St. Thomas also addresses the question of whether there is any mortal sin attached to the marital act itself; that’s probably even more outrageous to the sexualized thinking of our age! While St. Thomas answers the question of mortal sin in the negative, he still suggests that the marital act might involve venial sin, and he sets out to determine whether or not there is some other redeeming value to marriage that offsets the sin committed by the couple when they engage in the marital act.

Basically, the way I read it, St. Thomas says that there can be something sinful about the marital act, but of course there is no sin in the sacrament of marriage. This means that the Church “indulges” us by allowing and sanctifying marriage, but:

wherever there is indulgence, there must needs be some reason for excuse. Now marriage is allowed in the state of infirmity "by indulgence" (1 Corinthians 7:6). Therefore it needs to be excused by certain goods.

He goes on to explain that even though we call the sex act by different names depending on whether it occurs within marriage (the “marital act”) or outside of marriage (“fornication”), the two acts are essentially the same in nature:

Further, the intercourse of fornication and that of marriage are of the same species as regards the species of nature. But the intercourse of fornication is wrong in itself. Therefore, in order that the marriage intercourse be not wrong, something must be added to it to make it right, and draw it to another moral species.

In other words, the sex act would be just as wrong within marriage as it is outside of marriage, if marriage itself did not lend something to the act to make it morally right.
The goods of marriage are faith (fidelity, keeping the marriage contract), offspring, and sacrament. These “goods” are what keep the marital act from being sinful; they “excuse” marriage. In Article 5, St. Thomas asks “Whether the marriage act can be excused without the marriage goods?” He answers:

…If the cause be removed, the effect is removed. Now the marriage goods are the cause of rectitude in the marriage act. Therefore the marriage act cannot be excused without them.

Further, the aforesaid act does not differ from the act of fornication except in the aforesaid goods. But the act of fornication is always evil. Therefore the marriage act also will always be evil unless it be excused by the aforesaid goods.

If the act of fornication is always evil, doesn’t that mean that the sex act in and of itself is not truly a “gift from God”, that is, not an objective “good”? If the sex act outside of marriage is evil, then how can the sex act itself be good? Can it be morally neutral? (I don’t know the answer to that last question.)

In Article 6, St Thomas addresses the question of whether it is a mortal sin to engage in the marital act for pleasure only. He says that it is not a mortal sin, but that

…carnal intercourse of this kind is one of the daily sins, for which we say the "Our Father." Now these are not mortal sins.

I think it’s interesting that he is countering the idea of mortal sin, but almost casually observes that engaging in the marital act for pleasure only is a venial sin. The fact that it is so is not even under question here; it is assumed. St. Thomas continues:

Consequently the right answer to this question is that if pleasure be sought in such a way as to exclude the honesty of marriage, so that, to wit, it is not as a wife but as a woman that a man treats his wife, and that he is ready to use her in the same way if she were not his wife, it is a mortal sin; wherefore such a man is said to be too ardent a lover of his wife, because his ardor carries him away from the goods of marriage. If, however, he seek pleasure within the bounds of marriage, so that it would not be sought in another than his wife, it is a venial sin.

St. Thomas further clarifies:

"... there are only two ways in which married persons can come together without any sin at all, namely: in order to have offspring and in order to pay the marriage debt; otherwise it is always at least a venial sin." (Supplement, Q. 49, art. 5)

So we are left with a bit of a puzzle: if “sex” is a gift from God in and of itself, how can it be a venial sin to intentionally engage in the marital act for the purpose of pleasure only?

Implications for NFP

It seems that St. Thomas would maintain that marital relations under the regimen of periodic continence (or NFP) would always involve venial sin for at least one of the spouses. For instance, if both spouses mutually agree to use NFP to avoid pregnancy (for serious reasons), then one spouse could consent to having sexual relations during the infertile time to pay the marriage debt, and that would not be a sin because paying the marriage debt is a duty of marriage. But it seems that the spouse requesting sexual relations would be guilty of venial sin, because the request is made due to sexual desire and with full knowledge (and even intent) that pregnancy will be avoided.

It also seems that NFP – when the couple uses it to forestall pregnancy, but at the same time to satisfy their sexual appetite – involves venial sin, according to St. Thomas.

In his article Purity Honors Creativeness, Fr. William Gardner suggests that engaging in sexual relations during the woman’s infertile times is licit, but not virtuous, giving us a sort of middle-ground answer to the apparent contradiction of “sex as a gift from God” and “sex for pleasure only as a venial sin”.

Fr. Gardner also suggests that the marital act is only partly corrupted by sin; so, while the marital act can achieve full perfection only when conception occurs, “this is not to say…that the act of sexual intercourse does not have other benefits that are worth pursuing even if the procreative end is not obtained”.[2] The unfruitful marital act may still attain “a real level of perfection” in the sense that it may be virtuous in a particular instance (e.g., the couple desires conception which does not occur).

In terms of the implications for NFP use, I’d like to reiterate that every Church document that says NFP (or periodic continence) is licit also states very clearly that this would be for serious reasons only. Therefore, it would be important for couples to thoroughly examine their consciences to determine whether they are using NFP for a truly serious reason, or if they are simply convinced that “sex is a gift from God” that they can freely use within their marital relationship…without true regard for the serious reason, and without regard for the importance of the procreative end of their embrace.

Fr. Gardner makes a pertinent point in this regard. He notes:

Purity anticipates fruitfulness; and fruitfulness brings purification and perfection to human loving. Purity and fruitfulness both make human loving complete and truly full of joy.

Our Lord prescribed purity as the key of access to the Beatific Vision (Mt. 5:8). He furthermore identified perfection as the goal of Christian living (Mt. 5:48). Lastly, He affirmed that fruitfulness is the sign of a living faith (Jn. 15:5). All these: purity, fruitfulness, and perfection seem to be key aspects of the soul’s return to God, always under the inspiration of divine grace. Therefore, it seems fitting that the virtue of purity tends to inspire and support stable, faithful, and child-rich marriages. Purity and chastity are ordered to the procreation and proper rearing of abundant offspring; that is, to promoting and fostering the establishment and flourishing of large families. (Purity Honors Creativeness)

My conclusion is this: “sex” may be a gift from God, but due to original sin, it is a gift that is often abused. The use of periodic continence to avoid pregnancy may become a temptation to the venial sin of engaging in the marital embrace purely for the sake of sexual pleasure. The marital act is “good” in its pure and perfected form – which is when it is ordered to procreation. And lest that sound too mechanical or practical or stodgy, think of it as Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen does:

…[T]he begetting of new life is a sign that the heart is so full of happiness and love that it will die unless it overflows. (quoted in Purity Honors Creativeness)

Love. Purity. Faithfulness. Fruitfulness. If that’s what the marital act is truly about, then I’d say, yes, that’s a gift from God.

[1] Diriment impediment means that the person is unqualified to contract marriage validly – in general and for a particular marriage. This type of impediment prohibits marriage even if the parties are ignorant or in error about them.
[2] Fr. Willam M. Gardner, “A Theology of Life-giving”, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, Aug/Sept 2007


  1. Dr Boyd, I've been enjoying your exploration of Catholic teaching on marriage and immoral use of NFP. Thank you for taking the time to put your thoughts and learning in this public venue.

    I wish to add my humble two cents to your post because I've been reading St Augustin to gain better understanding of the Church's dogma on Original Sin; specifically the consequences of Original Sin which remain even after our regeneration through the Sacrament of Baptism. I've specifically been reading St Augustine's work "On Original Sin" and "On Marriage and Concupiscence".

    So when you wrote: "My conclusion is this: “sex” may be a gift from God, but due to original sin, it is a gift that is often abused."

    I think it would be more correct to say: "sex is a gift from God, but due to Original Sin, it is a gift that cannot be used without concupiscence, a consequence of Original Sin."

    St Augustine says, "The connubial embrace, however, which marriage-contracts point to as intended for the procreation of children, considered in itself simply and without any reference to fornication is good and right; although it is by reason of this body of death (which is unrenewed as yet by the resurrection) impracticable without a certain amount of bestial motion, which puts human nature to blush ..." -- On Original Sin, Ch 43.

    From this I gather that connubial embrace (i.e. sex with in the confines of marriage, because sex was always meant to be confined to marriage from the first marriage in Eden), is definitely a gift from God. But it is a gift which we have permanently (until the final resurrection anyway) corrupted.

    In his work "On Marriage and Concupiscence" St Augustine says that the evil of concupiscence, "cannot be separated from the process of procreation." (ch 1) This is a result of man's disobedience to God, in which God justly punished "man's great function of the procreation of children, the members which were expressly created for this purpose will not obey the direction of the will, but lust has to be waited for to set these members in motion, as if it had legal right over them, and sometimes it refuses to act when the mind wills, while often it acts against its will!" (ch 7)

    Finally, I think St Augustine puts it best with, "Since, therefore, marriage effects some good even out of that evil, [i.e. concupiscence or lust] it has whereof to glory; but since the good cannot be effected without the evil, it has reason for feeling shame." -- On Marriage and Concupiscence, Ch 8.

    What do you think?

    Again, thank you for your time and your thoughts.

  2. Creary, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I had read a little of Augustine on this topic too. I'm away for a couple of days; will comment more when I return home. I think St. Thomas drew on St. Augustine...not sure. Anyway, there's much to think about here!

  3. Fr. W. M. GardnerJune 6, 2012 at 5:08 PM

    Thank you for your thoughtful post today, and I echo Creary's gratitude for your time and research on this subject. I would like to add to Creary's helpful comments that St. Thomas also affirmed (drawing from St. Augustine) that venereal acts are not devoid of shame, even when adorned by the honesty of marriage. And this is due to the movement of the organs of generation apart from the command of reason. Summa II-II, Q. 151, Art. 4 "Whether purity belongs especially to chastity?"

  4. Hi Jay,
    To say that “sex’ is a gift from God is rather trite don’t you think? The marital act is sacred. Fornication and other sexual sins are profanation of the sacred, hence grave evil.
    It is best not to parse the words of Thomas Aquinas. If it is a sin for a spouse to intiate “sex” while knowing that there is no possibility of conception then all married people who are beyond child bearing years are committing sins. I think you would be hard pressed to find an official Church document from any century that would ever say this. John Paul ll wrote extensively on this subject in an effort to finally put to rest these ideas.
    There is abstract speculation on the marriage and then there is practical reality. People should concern themselves with expressing love and generosity toward their spouse, not worrying about whether they are committing a sin because they enjoy the marital embrace. It is a small notion with potentially destructive consequences. Practically speaking the husband is more often initiates sex. If a wife is not interested in relations at that particular moment she will be burdened by the idea that her husband is being selfish toward her and is committing a sin. At least I would be. I don’t see how this can do anything positive for a couple’s relationship. Perhaps it would be better to leave all this alone.
    Just because the Church “tolerates” NFP does not mean that there is sin associates with it. The Church would never sanction something sinful. Venial sins are not “allowable sins”. They are sins.
    I agree that NFP is often misused but I think its misuse is a cultural phenomenon that can only be counteracted by the witness of generous married couples living out their lives and enduring the difficulties of rearing a large family with joy. You can’t know whether a couple is committing a venial sin because they are resorting to NFP. But avoiding sin is a very poor argument for having a large family. I feel like it plays into the hands anti-family movement. “You better have kids or you’ll be committing a sin.” negates the other things you’ve said about the glories of a large family.
    Sue A

  5. Dr Boyd, I’m a bit further through St Augustine's "On Marriage and Concupiscence" and found a more passages that support the statement "Sex for Pleasure [is] Always a Venial Sin".  I hope to again offer these thoughts from the great Saint & Doctor of the Church with a few humble comments from myself about the "implications for NFP".

    First, from St Augustine "On Marriage and Concupiscence", Bk 1, Ch 16

    "For thus says the Scripture: '[1 Corinthians vii. 3-6]'. Now in a case where permission must be given, it cannot by any means be contended that there is not some amount of sin.  Since, however, the cohabitation for the purpose of procreating children, which must be admitted to be the proper end of marriage, is not sinful, what is it which the apostle allows to be permissible, but that married persons, when they have not the gift of continence, may require one from the other the due of the flesh -- and that not from a wish for procreation, but for the pleasure of concupiscence?"

    The Vulgate word used for "permission" in 1 Cor vii. 6. is indulgentiam; a synonym for venia.  St Augustine's argument turns on this word.  It makes perfect sense with the Catholic doctrine on indulgences.  The Church's indulgences are not for mortal sins, but for venial (from the Latin word "venia"), but if a soul has not venial sin(s) then there is no reason to use a Church indulgence.  Thus St Augustine's statement, "Now in a case where permission [indulgentiam or venia] must be given, it cannot by any means be contended that there is not some amount of sin."

    Next from Bk 1, Ch 17

    "It is, however, one thing for married persons to have intercourse only for the wish to beget children, which is not sinful: it is another thing for them to desire carnal pleasure in cohabitation, but with the spouse only which involves venial sin. For although propagation of offspring is not the motive of the intercourse, there is still no attempt to prevent such propagation, either by wrong desire or evil appliance.  They who resort to these, although called by the name of spouses, are really not such; they retain no vestige of true matrimony, but pretend to honorable designation as a cloak for criminal conduct."

    So from St Augustine's writings, sex within the confines of marriage, i.e. the connubial embrace, is a gift from God, but because of Original Sin & it's consequence of concupiscence the gift can be used in such a way that can result in [capital emphasis is mine]:

    1. No Sin -- The connubial embrace is used "ONLY for the wish to beget children"
    2. Venial Sin -- The connubial embrace is used when the husband and wife "have NOT procreation for their object, but serve an overbearing concupiscence", i.e. sex for pleasure
    3. Mortal Sin -- The connubial embrace is used with an "attempt to prevent such propagation, either by wrong DESIRE or evil appliance"

    The distinction lies with the intention and purpose of the action.  But notice that under mortal sin St Augustine includes even the DESIRE to prevent procreation.  I think this has greater implications for NFP.  Under your article's subsection titled "Implications for NFP", you say, "It also seems that NFP – when the couple uses it to forestall pregnancy, but at the same time to satisfy their sexual appetite – involves venial sin, […]"  However, if a married couple begins using NFP for the purpose, i.e. the desire to avoid procreation, then St Augustine puts them in the mortal sinners category.  I think this is why the Church has always taught that NFP could ONLY be used for grave reasons, because a grave reason is required to outweigh the grave sin (i.e. mortal sin) of engaging in the connubial embrace with the DESIRE to avoid/prevent procreation.

  6. Dr Boyd, I also hope to help you answer Sue A's assertion that if sex for pleasure is always at least a venial sin then married couples beyond normal childbearing years are always in sin when they engage in the connubial embrace.  Again St Augustine's work puts the emphasis on the intention and purpose of the connubial embrace, so it would be very possible for an elderly couple to engage in the connubial embrace with only a pure intention and wish to beget children.  We have the example of Abraham and Sara who did specifically that for the purpose to bring forth Isaac, even though Abraham himself said to God, "Shall a son, thinkest thou, be born to him that is a hundred years old? and shall Sara that is ninety years old bring forth?" (Gen xvii. 17)  "With men this is impossible: but with God all things are possible." (Matt xix. 26)  

    And as to Sue A's assertion that you would be "hard pressed to find an official Church document from any century that would ever say [that sex for pleasure is at least a venial sin]" … I found one, and it didn't take long.  There may be more than just this one, but I stopped my search when I found one, because it only takes one to disprove the above assertion.

    From Pope Innocent XI in a decree condemning various errors on moral subjects, March 4, 1679:  "The act of marriage exercise for pleasure only is entirely free of all fault and venial defect."  And again, to ensure it's clear, remember that statement is "condemned and prohibited, as [it is] here expressed, at least as scandalous and in practice pernicious." by Pope Innocent XI.

    So, Dr Boyd, I think you're on very safe ground to say, from the authority of the Church represented in it's three pillars, Sacred Scripture (1 Cor vii. 3-6), Sacred Tradition (teachings of the Saints and Doctors over the millennia), and the Holy Magisterium (Pope Innocent XI … at least, there's probably more), that sex for pleasure is a venial sin.

  7. Creary, thanks for your thoughtful comments and research. I want to take some time to go through this more thoroughly. I would like to discuss it with you via email if you are willing, but don't have an email address for you; could you email me, please?

  8. Thank you Dr. Boyd for your post and for the thoughtful conversation that is currently going on.

    This particular conversation is a timely one for myself as my diocese is currently promoting the use of the currently popularized understanding of the 'Theology of the Body' in Confirmation formation classes. I have a HUGE problem with this . . . In short, of course, because it utterly fails to recognize the reality of the effect of concupiscence and because it treats the nuptial union of man and woman as a supernatural means of sanctification. . . . Something, especially without deep clarification of 'intention and purpose', has no foundation in the perennial teachings of the Church.

    I am very interested to read your responses to Creary's statements as well as that of Sue A.

    Lastly Id like to comment on NFP, especially on the concept of using NFP when ones conscience declares it to be a truly "serious reason". I find that hard accept as something simply to be done by prayerful discernment (primarily because I believe the Church has given us guidelines of what constitutes a 'serious reason') and I also do not think thats what the tradition of the Church nor even what these more recent Pontiffs are saying.

    What concerns me is that many faithful Catholics view NFP as mandatory part of a healthy marriage. I don't understand how one can NOT see how purposely trying to avoid pregnancy runs contra to God’s Divine command to “be fruitful and multiply.” I fully understand that Paul VI taught in HV that couples could abstain for “serious reasons” but the Church has never said that couples can regulate the size of their families at personal will. Also, don't you think the charting of fertility (which I understand to be fairly accurate) would seem to make it 'much to easy' to abstain for the 'wrong' reason?

    Too much of the modern mindset of NFP seems to be novelty, and seems to leave much of the 'discernment of serious reason' in the hands of man's judgement as opposed to God's Divine Providence.

    Do 'serious reasons' truly exist?? Surely they do and Pius XII made them very clear in his “Address to the Italian Catholic Union of Midwives" from 1951,

    Outside of the reasons mentioned there, which we can discuss further if any wishes, I do not think there can be a 'serious reason' that would necessitate the use of NFP. Unless we accept that it can be far to easy to allow the phrase 'serious reason' to be extremely relative,,, which I do not believe the Church intended.

    Pax ;)

    Thanks again for your post and your blog. I do enjoy it very much :)

  9. I haven't fully caught up with your recent posts Dr Boyd as this post was directly pointed out to me. It seems you addressed most of my above statement in your most recent blog post :) Apologies for the redundancy

  10. I don’t understand how a discussion regarding the right use of NFP has descended into an argument over whether engaging in the marital act during an infertile period is a sin. But I think this quote from Humanae Vitae will lay the question to rest:
    “ 11. The sexual activity, in which husband and wife are intimately and chastely united with one another, through which human life is transmitted, is, as the recent Council recalled, "noble and worthy.'' (11) It does not, moreover, cease to be legitimate even when, for reasons independent of their will, it is foreseen to be infertile. For its natural adaptation to the expression and strengthening of the union of husband and wife is not thereby suppressed. The fact is, as experience shows, that new life is not the result of each and every act of sexual intercourse. God has wisely ordered laws of nature and the incidence of fertility in such a way that successive births are already naturally spaced through the inherent operation of these laws.”
    It would of course be a sin to seek the pleasure of the marital embrace for selfish reasons. But honestly, the pleasure of the marital embrace is the driving force behind having relations. It’s ridiculous to get caught up in whether this or that is a sin not to mention impractical. There are plenty of real sins to worry about.
    When it comes to making judgments about these matters we need to defer to the whole of the Magisterium all the way to the present. If we don’t agree or don’t understand then it is incumbent upon us to try to do so.
    I agree that NFP is misused. There are a lot of professional Catholics who go around and give talks and write books telling us what the Church teaches. And that’s a problem. I thought that was what the discussions were about. I hope that is still the case.

  11. I think there's still room to consider whatever sinfulness might be inherent in the selfish use of the marital act for pleasure only. We tend to lose track of the fact that gluttony - whether in food, sex, material possessions, or whatever - is a sin. Our current cultural milieu encourages selfishness and sinfulness in many ways, and we need to be wary. Catholicism is, after all, counter-cultural. We must work out our salvation with fear and trembling. That just might include our marriages!
    NFP fits into the discussion of course, because it seems that NFP is being touted at least in some quarters for the purpose of enjoying the marital act without the responsibility of parenthood. The two issues are related, I think.

  12. This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches about sexual pleasure in marriage:

    Section 2362: "The acts in marriage by which the intimate and chaste union of the spouses takes place are noble and honorable; the truly human performance of these acts fosters the self-giving they signify and enriches the spouses in joy and gratitude." Sexuality is a source of joy and pleasure:

    The Creator himself . . . established that in the [generative] function, spouses should experience pleasure and enjoyment of body and spirit. Therefore, the spouses do nothing evil in seeking this pleasure and enjoyment. They accept what the Creator has intended for them. At the same time, spouses should know how to keep themselves within the limits of just moderation.

    To the extent that this post disagrees with the Catechism, it disagrees with the Church. If anyone has any questions about the true teaching of the Church, they should consult the Catechism, not some random blogger.

  13. Let us not forget "...just moderation..." Let us not forget that part about "intimate and CHASTE union". That's what I'm trying to get at - marital chastity, not just "enjoying sex" in marriage.

    Let us not forget that married couples should "accept what the Creator has intended for them", which surely means that we must be ever mindful of the procreative end of marriage.

    Let us not forget the constant teaching of the Church about concupiscence. Marriage does not preclude concupiscence in the marital act.

    Let us not forget to consider what the CCC has to say in conjunction with the teachings of the fathers of the Church, such as Augustine, and the Angelic Doctor himself, St. Thomas Aquinas. The Church has much to say that is not encapsulated by citing one or two paragraphs from the CCC - as attested to by the CCC itself, with its multitude of footnotes citing other documents.

  14. St. Augustine, as well as St. Thomas, were not infallible. Their negative views towards marriage and sex were not the stance of the Church, and their errors were corrected by the Church.

    You can go back through all the documents, but where we are today is where we are supposed to be, since the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit. Now, unless you are saying you know better than the Pope and magisterium, then you should stop preaching this stuff.

    JPII also spoke of responsible parenthood, you are completely discounting that, or the reasons that couples may have for claiming that is their reason for avoiding.

  15. I am not discounting "responsible parenting" - it's the topic of a post I am preparing for publication soon, I hope. I will consider it in the context of the history of Church teaching on this marriage, just as I am considering everything else. "Generous parenthood" has been the norm, and "responsible parenthood" constitutes a major change.

    I don't think I am saying anything that is outside Church teaching, but I think that teaching NFP without discussing "serious reasons" IS counter to what the Church has taught for a long time, right up to the present.

    We don't throw out the teaching of the Church fathers and just say "Well, here's where we are today!" It's an organic whole, and the past fathers and doctors of the Church need to be considered, too. It's unlikely the Holy Spirit would call for a major disruption in the continuity of Church teaching on such an important topic as marriage!

  16. Whoa...I missed this last comment.

    I really think you are viewing NFP on the whole in the wrong context. NFP isn't counter to Church teaching. Sex for pleasure IS in the Catechism. TOB expresses it thoroughly.

    It is not that the Church has thrown out what the Saints have said, it is that we have better understanding now. We have had 500 more years to understand Christ than when St. Thomas was writing. I just spoke to my SD about this. Who happens to also celebrate the TLM. You need to study your TOB.

  17. Hebrews xiii. 8. "Jesus Christ, yesterday, and today; and the same for ever. "

    Jesus Christ doesn't change. Truth doesn't change. If it was true and taught as the Truth by the Church's popes, bishops, doctors and saints yesterday, then it is still the Truth today, and will be the Truth for ever.

    And to claim that we now have a new and better understanding of the Truth is condemned by the Vatican Council, Session iii, Ch 4, para. 14 and Canon 3:

    "14. Hence, too, that meaning of the sacred dogmas is ever to be maintained which has once been declared by Holy mother Church, and there must never be any abandonment of this sense under the pretext or in the name of a more profound understanding."

    Canon 3. "If anyone says that it is possible that at some time, given the advancement of knowledge, a sense may be assigned to the dogmas propounded by the Church which is different from that which the Church has understood and understands: let him be anathema."

    And in case anyone missed it earlier from an above comment, Pope Innocent XI in a decree condemning various errors on moral subjects, March 4, 1679 condemned the opinion that: "The act of marriage exercised for pleasure only is entirely free of all fault and venial defect."

    Kate (and others) have been so bold to say that St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas are not infallible. While that is a true statement, I hate that it seems necessary to point out to those bold disparaging commenters of two great Doctors of the Church, that the Catechism and TOB are also NOT infallible.

    However, take a look again at the decree of Pope Innocent XI. That does seem to have the characteristics of infallibility, that is, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, Pope Innocent XI, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, defined a doctrine concerning morals by condemning the false and opposite opinion.

    Dr Boyd, I'll again say that I think you can be confident that it was, is, and always will be Church teaching that sex for pleasure is a venial sin, as spelled out by Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition (the unchanging view of the popes, bishops, doctors and saints of the Church ... until very recently), and the Holy Magisterium (a papal decree condemning the opposite opinion).

  18. Thanks, Creary. I would like to talk more with you via email, so please email me if you are so inclined.

    I think also this whole "infallibility" thing is a bit of a problem in this discussion. In point of fact, there are very few teachings that are said to be infallible. For the Pope to issue an infallible statement, he has to actually say that it is infallible, as I understand it. Pope JPII came as close as he could to this in his statement on women (not) being ordained to the priesthood.

    Even the papal spokesman said that Humanae Vitae was not an infallible teaching - though he nuanced and explained that quite properly. The media took off with the simple notion that "it's not infallible", though, and look where that's led - widespread disobedience on the part of bishops, priests, and laity.

    Creary's research shows very clearly the mind of the Church on procreation and marriage and chastity and sin within marriage. If recent documents fly in the face of that constant teaching, we need to ask a few questions. Many people besides me have done so.

    There are some big problems with TOTB - especially as it has been interpreted by Christhoper West et al. TOTB is also "not infallible", ya know! And to fail to question the areas where it goes against prior (even RECENT) Church teaching is to fail to point out that the emperor has no clothes.

  19. I wasn't speaking of Christopher West. I have not read West's works. My problem is that you are not taking into account the huge portion of sexual morality teachings that JPII discussed in length. In fact I think you called it "garbage" and "should be thrown out".

    For you or anyone to speak of a Pope in such a manner is just ludicrous. We do understand more today than we have ever before. We are on a good track. We are not veering from old teaching, we are just understanding it better.

    I do not need you to give me dozens of quotes as if to prove anything, Creary. I am read all the documents. The one difference is that I have also read JPII. It is not garbage. It is brilliant.

  20. Excuse the I sit here and nurse a baby in my not-open-to-lifeness.

  21. Kate is right. The Catechism is clear. It even quotes your favorite Pope, Pius XII, approving of couples seeking pleasure in sexual relationships.

    Going back farther, St. John Chrysostom was very pro-sex in marriage. He is also a DOCTOR OF THE CHURCH. This is why the east has had fewer "issues" with it than the west.

  22. In her essay "Contraception", G.E.M. Anscombe discusses what St. Thomas meant by "purely for pleasure". It's more subtle than it sounds:

    A teaser: "A severe morality holds that intercourse (and may hold this of eating, too) has something wrong about it if it is ever done except explicitly as being required for that preservation of human life which is what makes intercourse a good kind of action. But this involves thoroughly faulty moral psychology. ..."


Please be courteous and concise.