Monday, July 2, 2012

An NFP Rant

[Warning: this is a RANT. It's a little more in-your-face than I usually post. If this is your first visit here, you might do better to read some of the other NFP posts first. Click on the NFP tab at the top of the page for a list.]

What’s missing in most discussions of NFP, and birth control in general, is a discussion of the purpose of marriage – largely because of the “personalist” (phenomenalistic) philosophy of most NFP proponents.

Personalism” has many forms, but most seem to have the subjectivity of the person and the philosophical thrust of phenomenology and existentialism behind them. The “idealist” brand of personalism says that reality is constituted by consciousness; on the other hand, “realist” personalism argues that the natural order is created by God independently of human consciousness. 

The “idealist” version of personalism, an NFP staple, seems to be deliberately myopic, taking human experiences as "data" for the philosophical experience, without any necessary context. So, while acquiescing to the obvious – that sex is and can only be for procreation –NFP personalists nevertheless focus on the human reality of "sexual experience" as a thing in itself. This is like observing the role of eating for nutrition, and then deciding to focus on the mystical and "human dimensions" of eating itself.  

The conclusion of personalism appears to be that, since we are human beings, everything we do should be done in a distinctly human way. Therefore, we should eat, and pee, and copulate in some mystically human sense. That eating, and peeing, and copulating have always been understood in terms of "purpose" is ignored so that we can contemplate our navels in ecstasy.

Now, the primary purpose of marriage is procreation. Therefore, if “purposely sterile sex" (however that is achieved, whether artificially or naturally) is judged to be a good thing in and of itself, then marriage doesn't even have a point any more beyond the civil and contractual. The classic definition of marriage as a contract "for the mutual and exclusive rights to acts appropriate for the procreation of children" makes no sense when "purposely sterile sex" is entertained as some kind of equivalent end. "Purposely sterile sex" just guts the original intention for marriage.

Personalists focus on the existential reality that man and woman are together and express their love for one another in a particular way, ignoring that there is a purpose for expressing their love in that particular way. Oh yes, they acknowledge the procreative end, but reduce it to something that must be brought under the control of the human will, which is alleged to have become “enlightened” in recent times to allow for “prudent and responsible parenthood”. (And I think one of the most unfortunate additions to the language of recent Church documents is that phrase, “responsible parenthood”.) Sex becomes something to be enjoyed in and of itself, both for the physical ecstasy and the mystically unitive end it is said to serve.

In marriage, we serve God's purpose by procreating with Him. If that isn't mystical enough, what is? In expressing our love for one another in a way particular to marriage, we procreate with God new citizens for Heaven and (Deo Gratias!) we grow in the marital love so necessary to be good parents to those procreated beings! It bothers me a lot to think of focusing on the physical act of love between married persons in some way that gives it significance beyond its primary purpose. Clearly the “unitive” and “self-gifting” ends touted by the “personalist” view are secondary ends of marriage, and should only be appreciated in light of the primary purpose of the marital act.
Realists, like St. Thomas Aquinas, see an ordered world that can be experienced directly and understood through its purpose. Aquinas does see "secondary effects" and even "secondary motivations" that drive human beings to mate, but he understands all of it through its primary purpose. Absent a purpose, actions have no context for evaluation, and we end up with that maddening expression, “it is what it is”. Only GOD "is what it is". The rest of reality is “for something." 

There is not going to be marriage in Heaven, and hence, no "marital embrace", because there is no purpose to marriage or the "marital embrace" in Heaven. There is a purpose to marriage here on earth: procreation. The means to that end involves the marital act.

But, because of Original Sin, the sexual appetite that prompts the marital act, which has procreation as its purpose, is disordered. And on some level,  JPII’s “Theology of the Body” as it is interpreted by writers like Christopher West (and let’s face it: more people are listening to West than are reading the original tome of TOB) is little more than a pandering to concupiscence, a rationalization of sexual fantasy, and an exaltation of the couple’s “responsibility” to “determine” how many children they will have.

The true evidence of the exchange of marital love is a conceived child! Fr. William Gardner notes that the sexual act is directed by nature to procreation, though it does have benefits that accrue even if procreation is not achieved in a particular act.

…[T]he sexual act can only reach full perfection in conception. A non-fruitful act of sexual intercourse may be morally licit and mutually beneficial to the spouses and may also consummate a marital commitment (in each case, reaching a real level of perfection), but it is not a fully perfected sexual act since human life has not been transmitted. The sexual act has not achieved the end that distinguishes it from all other kinds of human acts. (From “A Theology of Life-Giving”, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, August/September 2007)

Fr. Gardner also quotes Blessed John Paul II: “…fecundity is the living testimony of the full reciprocal giving of the spouses” (Familiaris Consortio, #28).

In other words, this "total donation of self" is the child, whose birth and subsequent raising and education provide the vehicle for growth in all the virtues characterized as "unselfish." Two "selfish" people "make love", and their child is the fruit of that love.

When procreation is intentionally left out of the equation – whether by artificial methods, or "gaming" the system with "natural methods" – there is no exchange of love, no donation, and you are left with "mutual masturbation”. This can never be "self-giving" or "self-donating." Such "love-making" is inherently selfish because there is an intention against the fruitfulness which is the sign of married love.
Many couples using NFP have made themselves co-equal partners with God in deciding when and whether they should have children, based on their supposed duty for “responsible parenthood” and “prudence”. They are forgetting the scripture verse that says "you are worth more than many sparrows", which is intended to teach us that God will provide for what He loves; and He loves to be a partner in procreation, so He will provide for those who trust Him. When we are "responsible" by deciding that God wouldn't want us to have more children than we can provide for, we act as if that is all up to us! Worldly “prudence” is antithetical to abandonment to Divine Providence.

I’ve been accused of reducing women to wombs, but some NFP proponents seem to reduce women to vaginas in need of regular stimulation. I’m trying to discuss "the duty of motherhood" and all that implies; some NFP proponents seem to have lost the sense that the "duty of motherhood" is another word for “marriage" and, in fact, defines its purpose. What more noble task can there be than to partner with God to raise up saints?!

There are those who will continue to stubbornly defend their “right” to purposefully avoid pregnancy in the interest of “responsible parenthood” – even when evidence of the constant teaching of the Church is staring them in the face. They will one dav stand before God and have to answer for the children they didn't have and for all the sex that they thought was more important.  

St. Pelagia, a repentant of my own
personal patron saints.
But there are plenty of others of us out there who are now past the point of childbearing, but have come before God and said "I didn't know and I am so sorry – forgive me!" Like grieving for an abortion, we can't undo our past failures with regard to birth control, but we can say "I'm sorry. Forgive me", and do penance. And we can accept that as part of God's plan for us, because God created us to be filled and fulfilled by Himself.
And there are those who are in between – those of childbearing age who are using or thinking of using NFP (or contraception) to limit the size of their families. If you are one of those, and if you’ve read this whole post (congrats on your high level of perseverance!), and you are questioning your own reasons for avoiding pregnancy, I encourage you to ponder the truths the Church has always taught, rather than be swayed solely by current, “modern” thinking on this issue. It’s important…for your own soul, and for the souls of the children God perhaps wants to give you.

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


  1. Interesting. I agree that NFP is overused today and often for the wrong reasons. I encourage Catholics to read Humanae Vitae in full, which addresses responsible spacing of births. I also recommend Dietrich von Hildebrand's "Marriage: The Mystery of Faithful Love," which discusses the true meaning of conjugal love. As you know, the von Hildebrands were unable to have children, and so the marital act for them clearly could not be based solely on procreation, and we also know the Church has never taught that intercourse between infertile spouses is a sin.

  2. The author misunderstands and misrepresents marriage, personalism and what constitutes a morally good act. Humanae Vitae clearly states, "This particular doctrine, often expounded by the Magesterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act." (Humanae Vitae, n. 11-12.) Neither end of marriage may be denied, and the unitive aspect is "integral" to the marriage act -- despite the author's insistence that procreation is all that is important. The object, intent and circumstance of all acts must be good for an act to be good, and if we rip the unitive aspect from sex as the author would have us do, we will not even have a good moral act left. The author also puts St. Thomas into the "realist" camp of personalism - interesting because personalism started to spring up three-quarters of a millennium after he was dead.

    In the end, I'm not sure why people choose to deny the teaching of the Church, expound their own interpretations of moral teaching and work so hard to lead people down the wrong path - and a path the Church specifically rejects. If you reject the teaching authority of the Church, then either do some work on yourself and change that, or join the rest of the sedevacsntists -- please don't pretend to teach authentic Catholic teaching while actually leading souls away from the Church.

  3. Francis: I'm certain that St. Thomas would not describe himself as a "personalist" - now would any of the other philosophers who are viewed as part of the history of the development of "modern" personalism. That doesn't mean we can't see some characteristics of personalism in his thought.

    As for my view of marriage, etc., I think I have plenty of good company in Popes Pius XI and XII, St. Thomas, Augustine, and others. I do not deny the importance of the "unitive" end of marriage; I'm just saying, in accord with the fathers and doctors of the Church up until very recent times, that the procreative end is primary.

  4. Jay, I appreciate what you're saying - but while you say you do not "deny the importance of the "unitive" end of marriage," your entire above post contradicts that. Further, Humanae Vitae does not say the unitive aspect is "important," -- but rather that it is inherent to the act. By saying that a marriage has no meaning outside of the contractual if a couple becomes naturally sterile (as you do in paragraph,) and their sex is deemed to be a "good," is to drastically misunderstand the Church's current teaching on marriage. You may argue that your view of marriage is in line with those individuals you mentioned, (and that may or may not be true,) but you are obviously not in accord with the teaching authority of the Magesterium. (St. Thomas also taught delayed animation and ensoulent several weeks after conception. This doesn't mean it's the case. That's why we have a Magesterium who teaches, and don't leave it up to individuals to interpret things on their own.)

    I think the crux of the whole issue is that you are denying the Church's authority to teach, or at least being disobedient to it. Just because you reference saints of the Church, or even the Church's former understanding, this doesn't change the fact that you're denying what the Church is saying now. I think it's very dangerous for anyone to set themselves up as an alternative Magesterium - whether that be renegade nuns pushing for immoral elements of health care, activists pushing for the acceptance of active homosexuality --- or those trying to subvert Humanae Vitae's insistence on the integral nature of the unitive aspect of marriage.

  5. "That's why we have a Magesterium who teaches, and don't leave it up to individuals to interpret things on their own."

    Exactly. And that brings us back to the point: many NFP promoters are doing just that. They are giving a wide-ranging personal interpretation of what the Church means by "serious reasons", and going through all kinds of machinations to avoid admitting of a contraceptive mentality - call it a birth control mentality if you wish - that exists in many cases of the abuse of NFP. (And I was not addressing a couple "becoming naturally sterile" in this post; you have misunderstood me there.)

    I am not at all denying the Church's authority to teach. I am supporting it and trying to convince some NFP supporters to do the same! If "what the Church is saying now" is *that* different from what recent Popes have said, then we have a problem. If we look at HV in the context of the whole of the teaching of the Church on this subject, we can commend the upholding of the constant teaching that contraception is a grave evil; and we can see that the insistence on "serious reasons" for the use of licit birth control is still there.

    But there is a shift from "primary ends" to "integrated ends", and that is a very new teaching. I don't think it is improper to address that particular point and discuss the problems with it.

    I think that a couple cannot go wrong by following the teaching that the procreative end of marriage is primary, but much damage to souls comes from the notion that the "unitive" end is just as important.

  6. Jay: I definitely hear you on the "serious reasons" front - in fact, it's nearly self-evident. While it isn't explicitly defined, the word serious can only be defined so liberally - and i think it's more than fair to posit that there are couples who, under some false sense of the automatic holiness of the practice of NFP, are simply contracepting by natural means. This is bad for their marriages, bad for their families and bad for their souls.

    But your assault on the unitive dimension of the marital act is troubling. You make it sound in your writing that this unitive aspect is just the fanciful creation of post-sexual revolution ultra-progressives who were seeking the destruction of the foundations of marriage. The fact of the matter is that the Church emphasises both aspects, and says that both are inherent to the act. Expressing anything other than this is not expressing the faith of the Church. Further, just because we may believe many couples are employing NFP illicitly, this doesn't give us license to then cut aspects out of the Church's teaching in order to swing the pendulum the other way. JPII's TOB goes to great lengths to integrate these aspects of married love, not to mention Love and Responsibility and his emphasis on the female orgasm. Now if the Church's teaching clearly and unequivocally expresses that both aspects are inherent to the act, how is it appropriate to distort this teaching to fit our own belief system?

  7. Francis, I am working on a post about the relative magisterial weight of different types of papal documents. I think one would be hard-pressed to make a case for JPII's TOB as magisterial teaching. Wednesday audiences don't carry that kind of weight. The same would go for the books Pope BXVI has written before and after he became Pope. His books and audiences are not of the same weight as, for example, an encyclical.

  8. Sure, obviously the force of Papal authority depends upon the nature of the written piece in question - but Humanae Vitae's insistence that the unitive aspect of the marital act is inherent to the very nature of the act is certainly Magisterial in scope. Gaudium et Spes further reiterates that "marriage to be sure is not instituted solely for procreation..." Denying this is denying the faith of the Church! There is no wiggling out of that!

    The reason this type of confusion is so frustrating is that we have a challenging but beautiful and rationally sound teaching about marriage and sexuality in the Church. However, when people distort and undermine the Church's authentic teaching and rip the unitive aspect from the marital act, people will (rightly) disregard that teaching. Confusing it for authentic Catholic teaching, they will discard the whole lot as unreasonable. In this regard, what you're doing here leads Catholics and non-Catholics away from a rightly-ordered sexual ethic, in that they cannot reconcile themselves and what they know the love of spouses to be with the fractured and stunted synthesis of the Church's theology you're advocating. Add to that the clear contradiction with Magesterial documents, and I'm not sure how such dissent is defensible.

  9. Christopher PatrickJuly 3, 2012 at 12:59 PM

    Francis, I think you do Jay's work a serious injustice by offering little more than your own rant in response. She has built her case on a foundation of close to a dozen prior posts and you should read them carefully before accusing her of disobedience or dissent.

    The unitive aspect of the marital act may be inherent to the very nature of the act, but that doesn't make the marital act itself an inherent dimension of marriage throughout the life of a marriage. When we're young and fertile, it's appropriate to procreate and to do often "those acts which are appropriate for the procreation of children." As we age and decline in fertility, it should be expected that the expression of married love should grow into different forms of expression. Neither spouse should be as interested (or is even as interesting)in the marital act as their entire physiology grows away from the possibility of procreation. THAT is truly recognizing "nature."

    As for one sentence in Gaudium et Spes and JPII's almost bizarre sacralization of the female orgasm, it should take more than that to toss centuries of Catholic theology and reflection on marriage into the dust bin of history. I can't think of a single Saint, married or not, who would not blush at the overall immodesty of all TOB and NFP presentations. I cannot imagine Our Blessed Mother teaching young Jewish maidens to chart or attempting to enlighten them as to the mystical significance of the female orgasm. There is, indeed, much explicit teaching today about the marital act, but it is genuinely debatable how much of this qualifies as "magisterial." Everything but God must be understood through its purpose, and the physical act of inserting a penis into a vagina is pretty clear as to purpose.

    The marital act is "a" means of developing the unitive dimension of marriage. It cannot be inherent to marriage as such without dismissing the marriage of Mary and Joseph as a true marriage. Eve was created first as a companion for Adam, but together their purpose was to "be fruitful and multiply." The sacramental grace of matrimony is for the holiness of the spouses and their children. If children are not possible, the raw physicality of sexual intercourse begins to resemble "vestigial organs" which may once have had a purpose but which now do not. When one deliberately intends to avoid the proper fruit of the marital act which is procreation, then one is also attacking the unitive effects of the marital act because it becomes an act of mutual selfishness.

    (continued below)

  10. Christopher PatrickJuly 3, 2012 at 1:00 PM

    The marital act has a primary purpose and secondary effects. Those secondary effects may be good, but not at the expense of the primary purpose. One should pray for the grace to grow in the expression of one's married love beyond what is most appropriate during one's fertile years. Both men and women physically decline as they age. They do not decline in their need for union. Sexual intercourse is but one way to grow in union and, as we age, probably not even the best. If that is true, then it is inappropriate to create whole industries to teach the importance of something that will become physically less possible over time.

    Is it not unseemly, even immodest, to hear senior citizens celebrate, "loud and proud," their sex lives in public? Is it not actually harmful for married couples to overemphasize the importance of sex and thereby limit their spiritual imaginations? The value and true significance of married love has been collapsed into an excessive emphasis on "good sex lives." Polite attention is paid to "other ways of showing married love," but the marital act is being presented as if it is the sine qua non of marital happiness. Are the marriages of those who mature past the marital act defective?

    The marriage of Mary and Joseph has something to teach us about marriage or it does not. If it does, then it is a wild exaggeration to believe that TOB actually teaches us something important.

    Read Jay's entire series from the beginning before you start throwing around inflammatory terms like "dissent" and "sedevacantism." When "new theology" on the the sacrament of matrimony and the institution of marriage makes light of centuries worth of consistent teaching by the Magisterium, I think the burden of proof is on the "new theologians" to demonstrate that what they teach is actually doctrinal development.

  11. I really don't intend to be mean, but this is nearly laughable. Since you think the saints would blush, and because you can't imagine Our Lady teaching NFP, this makes you reject the Church's teaching? Get real. Notwithstanding your feelings and imaginations about how saints would react, or your insight into the psychological profile of Our Lady, Encyclicals carry the weight of Papal authority, and thus the Church's authority. The Church's understanding and teaching in many areas has developed over the centuries - this does not give one license to reject these developments. And despite your protestations, there is no burden of proof on the Church to prove herself to you or anyone else. If the saints are indeed blushing, I think they may be blushing at the blatant disregard of Papal authority, Church teaching and lack of obedience displayed by those who want to undermine the authentic teaching of the Church in the area of sexual ethics.

  12. Christopher PatrickJuly 3, 2012 at 10:29 PM

    Francis, you are still ranting without reference to anything but Wednesday audiences and a few lines from encyclicals that have yet to be interpreted or understood definitively. The ordinary Magisterium of the Church may be speaking, but can you be confident that this early in a potential development of doctrine that we truly understand what is being said and applying it correctly? Nowhere does the Church place the marital act at the center of married life -- nor has it ever done so -- as you seem to be doing. It is important, yes, because it is the means by which the purpose of marriage is achieved. It is "a" means by which the secondary ends of union are achieved. To elevate the marital act to the heights that you do is inconsistent with Church teaching but very consistent with the importance our culture places on sex and should be, for that reason alone, approached cautiously. Give us more than indignation and mockery and show Jay precisely how she is dissenting from Church teaching. Unsubstantiated statements are cheap.

    None of Jay's postings on these subjects have been done without serious research and consultation with faithful, orthodox priests. You give no evidence of having read Jay's prior well reasoned and thorough postings. Your own rants ignore important specifics. Show us the texts that support your claims and contradict Jay's claims.

    I don't think you realize how much you are elevating the marital act to a place of primacy within the understanding of marriage. That is very narrow thinking. If Saints manifest as individuals what is possible through grace, then the marriage of Mary and Joseph manifests for us what is the ideal of married love and family life and an ideal is what we pursue over the course of a lifetime of married love.

    Jay has spent countless hours attempting to understand this subject truthfully and consistent with the teachings of the Church. Your dismissal of attempts to understand a mystery through the eyes of Mary or the Saints says more about you and your spirituality than about the issues in question. We are invited to "put on the mind of Christ" and the Saints are given to us as models of authentic Christian living. It is not inappropriate to attempt to "put on the mind of Mary" to see if that doesn't shed light on a Truth of our Faith. We learn from our betters, how they live and how they think.

    That Mary might be embarrassed by the flagrant immodesty of TOB and NFP is worth considering. That the mother and father of the Little Flower might be embarrassed at the contents of present day marriage preparation classes is worth considering. There is definitely new teaching today. It is not at all clear that our understanding of that teaching is correct or consistent with the prior teaching from which it must emerge.

  13. Christopher, you are so wrong on so many counts. I have never (not once) written anything even remotely about placing "the marital act at the center of married life." You seem to have a lot to say about that, and that's great. However, that has absolutely nothing to do with what I'm talking about. What I'm talking about is people stripping the unitive dimension from the marital act, attempting to discount the Magesterial authority which has pronounced it inherent to the act itself, and setting up their own interpretation thereof.

    You say, "None of Jay's postings on these subjects have been done without serious research and consultation with faithful, orthodox priests." Far from making what she's saying more palatable, THAT'S THE PROBLEM! These (quote-unquote) "faithful, orthodox" priests that are referenced must not be quite so faithful and orthodox if they're advocating for active dissent, a rejection of elements of the Second Vatican Council and an upholding of some outside authority other than the Magesterium to teach authentic Catholicism. Just because a priest isn't progressive doesn't mean you can use that priest's approval of what you're saying as permission to dissent from definitive teaching. What do you expect the reaction to be? "Oh, wait - you've spoken with priests who reference themselves as faithful and orthodox? OH! Well, in that case, let's flatly disobey the Catechism of the Catholic Church, several encyclicals, apostolic constitutions and volumes of work spoken about and written by the former Pope who will certainly become a saint and set up our own interpretation contrary to that of the Church." All you are doing is setting up yourselves - and these "faithful, orthodox priests," - as a separate teaching authority. But guess what? They're (and you're) not! Orthodox priests, radical priests, holy people and people like me are all subject to the same obedience to these teachings - teachings of faith and morals - which Catholics are bound to accept.

    But somehow you feel that if some priest you proclaim is orthodox agrees with you, then you just become right and the Church is wrong? Well I have a progressive priest friend and he had this to say about the unitive aspect of the marital act: "The same Creator...has also decreed that in this function the parties should experience pleasure and happiness of body and spirit. Husband and wife, therefore, by seeking and enjoying this pleasure do no wrong whatever. They accept what the Creator has destined for them." Oh, wait. That wasn't a progressive priest. That was Pope Pius XII, who Jay is apparently in accord with. I guess that with the imprimatur of your orthodox priest you can just discount him, JPII, the Catechism and what the Church has definitively taught in Humanae Vitae and Gaudium et Spes as new-age theology and effects of the sexual revolution (which must have started a lot longer before I thought it did!)

    The Church's teaching on ecumenism has developed over the centuries - do you reject the Church's teaching in this area? The Church's teaching on the liturgy has developed over the centuries - do you reject the Church's teaching here? Regardless of what area of the Church's teaching you reject, dissent is dissent. (Except for the fact that this particular teaching demands obedience, being an area of faith and morals - check out Canon 750, § 2 if you're interested.)

    Pope Benedict spoke not three months ago about how dissent will never and can never renew the Church. Why do those who hold ultra-conservative theological positions feel that their dissent is somehow immune from the law that prohibits it?

  14. Fr. W. M. GardnerJuly 4, 2012 at 7:04 PM

    “What I'm talking about is people stripping the unitive dimension from the marital act, attempting to discount the Magisterial authority which has pronounced it inherent to the act itself, and setting up their own interpretation thereof.”

    Francis, where do you find that someone here has attempted to strip the unitive dimension from the marital act? I admit that Dr. Boyd’s approach with this post is regrettably rather harsh (see her disclaimer at the top). And I would not want to diminish the importance of the unitive aspect of marital relations. Indeed, let’s call to mind that impotence (at the time of the wedding) is a diriment impediment to marriage; while infertility is not. However, Dr. Boyd’s point remains valid: that all the other ends of the marital act are meant to be subordinate to the procreative end, which is primary. Additionally, as Christopher Patrick pointed out, the marriage of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph remains as a model of holiness for all of us.

    Also, are you implying that the unitive dimension inheres in the marital act separately from the procreative end? HV seems to be saying that both the procreative and unitive meanings inhere together, such that they ought not to be willfully separated. This latter principle attempts to justify periodic continence, while condemning artificial contraception (and artificial conception).

    Lastly, are we allowed to speculate as to why current magisterial teaching on marriage and family seems to be hopelessly ineffective (neutered, if you will) in the face of the prevailing contraceptive culture? Is it perhaps a question of strategy, or emphasis?

    Francis, where are the children?

  15. Jay writes that when these darned Personalists have their way: "...Sex becomes something to be enjoyed in and of itself, both for the physical ecstasy and the mystically unitive end it is said to serve." First of all, why would we raise concern about people enjoying sex in and of itself? Did I miss something? This is bad all of a sudden? It seems, from the quote provided above, that Pope Pius XII would have no problem with it! But when she talks of the "mystically unitive end it is said to serve," this is very obviously disparaging the unitive aspect of conjugal love as something to scoff at, and further adds that the marital act is only "said" to serve a unitive purpose. (Implying that it doesn't REALLY serve it, it is only SAID to serve it.) Clearly, this isn't affirming both aspects of the act - it is making some hilarious joke of these new-age philosophers and theologians who want to sit around talking about how wonderful the ecstasy of sex is all day. Well guess what ---- this is the teaching of the Church you're trashing! So please don't be surprised or alarmed if people are a bit upset when the Church's teaching is scoffed at.

    Then, Christopher Patrick claims that, "it is a wild exaggeration to believe that TOB actually teaches us something important." Well, I'm not really sure how to respond to that -- but you're wondering why I'm feeling that the Church's teaching is under attack? The Theology of the Body was quite a major theme during the pontificate of a man who the Church is fast-tracking to sainthood - but apparently we should disregard the entire thing? I'm sorry but Blessed John Paul the Great's teaching stands up to a lot more than empty criticism from your uninformed neighbourhood blog commenter.

    In answer to your questions, Father: I'm in no way saying that the unitive and procreative aspects exist separately within conjugal love. Conversely, I'm attempting to affirm that both need always be present. It is the apparent disdain for the unitive aspect of marital love, despite the Church's insistence on its inclusion, that is creating such hurt feelings on my end. This is our faith! This is the faith of the Church - I am proud to profess it in Christ Jesus our Lord -- and I will defend it when its torn down.

    As to your second question: I have a two-fold answer. First off, we should remember that this ineffectiveness is not a new phenomenon. There was incredible dissent when HV was first promulgated - heck, my Bishops up here in Canada (please don't hold it against us...) issued their infamous Winnipeg Statement effectively giving dissenters an Episcopally-sanctioned "out." That's the first reason it is so ineffective: how can we expect Catholics to follow a teaching when not only is the world saying its silly - but our own Bishops and priests are saying we don't really have to bother! In my opinion, it becomes pretty hard to blame your everyday fellow in the pew for not being able to read between the Ecclesiastical lines and know something is wrong DESPITE what he heard from his homilist, confessor etc. I think this is shifting due to the Bishops selected by the (apparently very unpopular on this page) JPII and also by BXVI, and also because of Paul VI's predictions coming exclusively true, the dire effects of contraception being realized, and by a new crop of clergy willing to teach the truth about contraception. But - a lot of damage has been done and it will take time to re-vangelize in the sexual arena.


  16. But my second answer is that its exactly the type of dissent and the disparaging of those who ought to be our Church's heroes like JPII happening here that is contributing to this ineffectiveness (albeit less-so, but nonetheless.) Finding, taking in, understanding and accepting the Church's teaching in these areas is difficult - but for those mired in today's culture, and perhaps on the fringes of the Church, it is all the more so. But if I were someone seeking answers, or someone who had some interaction with the Church when I was young but none since, and when seeking came across this type of talk - talk which can't even accept what the Church is saying about the inseparability of unity and procreation - I would either laugh or cry but either way I'd leave and never come back. The ONLY way we're going to overcome the contraceptive culture is through Christ; the ONLY way we're going to accomplish this through Christ is through the Church; and the best way to to throw a wrench in this whole thing is by undermining the Church's teaching, scoffing at the teaching of our recent popes, and trying to claim to people that THE "authentic" Catholic sexual ethic cares only for procreation and nothing for anything else. The world will discard this as silly and wrong-headed - and rightly they should. But why would anyone listen to the Church when a large group of people just ignore the teaching because they feel its too strict -- while at the same time a group on the other side snickers while dissenting and throwing out the past 50 years of doctrinal development? I ask again: while eager to jump all over dissenters on the progressive side, why do conservative dissenters feel they're above the (Canon) law?

  17. Christopher William McAvoy, Emmitsburg, MDJuly 4, 2012 at 10:26 PM

    Dr. Jay Boyd, You've have honoured myself and honoured God with this summation, which is the triumph of orthodox teaching. You are a genuine bonafide erudite Orthodox Catholic. I can think of few other people on the internet which have summarized this succinctly and precisely the truth of the matter about this topic. I am sure my friend Fr. Gardner agrees. Though the gender here is male, I offer you these words with you in mind:

    From the book of Ecclesiasticus, Ch. 44. 1-15

    "Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us. The Lord hath wrought great glory by them through his power from the beginning. Such as did bear rule in their kingdoms, men renowned for their power, giving counsel by their understanding, and declaring prophecies: leaders of the people by their counsels, and by their knowledge of learning meet for the people, wise and eloquent in their instructions (this is you Dr. Jay.) Such as found out musical tunes, and recited verses in writing: rich men furnished with ability, living peaceably in their habitations: all these were honoured in their generations, and were the glory of their times. - Their seed shall remain for ever, and their glory shall not be blotted out. Their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth forevermore. The people will tell of their wisdom, and the congregation will shew forth their praise."

    We have seen the true light,
    We have received the heavenly Spirit.
    We have found the true faith,
    Worshiping the undivided Trinity.
    Who hath saved us !

    Thank you for inspiring me.

  18. Mr. McAvoy - thanks!

    Francis, I think we are in agreement that the procreative and unitive ends of marriage are both important; as Fr. Gardner notes, though, I stick with the Church teaching that the unitive end is subordinate to the procreative end. My problem with what I currently see on the web is the exaltation of sexuality in the secular world, with Catholics-supporting-NFP following closely along those lines.

    The last 50 years cannot quite be characterized as “doctrinal development” given the many objections and challenges and discussions that have ensued regarding TOB – by noted theologians and scholars, not just “random bloggers” like myself. I think it’s wrong to throw out the previous 2000 years of constant Church teaching in favor of the recent “development” of thinking on sexuality. This country has been on the steep decline predicted by Pope Paul VI for 50 years, and that decline gets steeper on an almost daily basis. Because of that, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with examining – and yes, even challenging – the thinking of the last 50 years in light of the teaching that went before it, and in light of the sad, sorry moral shape of the world today. The proof is in the pudding. If new teaching hasn’t led to an increase in holiness, then something’s wrong.

    I appreciate those who have shared their thoughts here, but I think we’ve beat this into the ground. I don’t intend to contribute much more in the comments section here. See you on another post!

  19. You cannot rely only on St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas without also addressing St. John Chrysostom. He is more influential in the East and in the Orthodox Church, but he is a father to the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, not just the Orthodox.

    Chrysostom is very positive about sex in marriage as being good in itself (and very anti-contraception).

    JPII didn't invent anything new, he just gave Chrysostom the same emphasis in the west that he had in the east. Perhaps that is because he was from Poland, a land more influenced by Eastern Christianity?

  20. So much of this argument has nothing to do with NFP. It has all to do with those disagreeing with Vatican II.

    I, as a Catholic, will follow our magisterium, and yes, the current teachings from the Pope (including but not limited to TOB, the original). You should not called it "garbage".

  21. Francis, who is clearly a sincere Catholic, is in the same boat with many of his co-religionists, who have fallen for the idea that the Church's teaching can change, or evolve, over time. This is the core issue that colors Francis', and others, thinking. And, horribly, it has affected many in the Church from the lowest to the highest. Once you accept the notion that centuries old teachings, protected from error by the Holy Ghost, can suddenly have a new meaning in 2012, then all manner of error will seep in and cause untold confusion, to the detriment of the true Faith.

    It also indicates a rather startling unfamiliarity with how the Church's teaching process works, and a misunderstanding of the dogmatic term "infallibility". What is so obvious is that many good practicing Catholics often confuse infallibility with impeccability. In other words, they believe that the Pope is impeccable, that every utterance from his pen or mouth is God-given truth. And if the history of the Church teaches us anything it is that such a belief is utter rubbish.

    This implies no disrespect to the supreme office or authority of the Holy Father. Far from it. Indeed it implies the opposite: defending the Faith and the Pope when he, speaking on his own without using his charism of infallibility, says things that are neither dogmatic nor, sadly, in many cases his own misguided opinions. I would recommend to those who think the Popes cannot err to read any reliable history of, say, the English Reformation. In our day we have had weak Popes and misguided Popes, Popes who have not done their homework or who have relied on poor advice, Popes who have done scandalous things. Kate mentions TOB, a ridiculous Papal miscalculation if ever there was one, and one that is certain to be condemned by the Church in the future.

    There is also no doubt in my mind that once the Church regains her balance the whole issue of NFP is going to be reexamined. If one's intention is to prevent children for frivolous or less than "very grave" reasons, then it is every bit as bad as the Pill. It's not the's the INTENTION that must be looked at. If the intention is sinful, then it is a sin. The pill only compounds the sin by adding another layer of guilt on it.

    Both my wife and I horribly regret using NFP during the first years of our marriage. What lovely souls we could have brought into this world, and did not.

    1. A response of the Holy Office: "May one subscribe to the opinion of certain modern authors who deny that the principle end of marriage is the begetting and education of children, or who teach that the secondary ends are not essentially subordinated to the primary ends, but are equally primary and independent?" The reply was "No" ( Acta Apostolicae Sedis., 36,103;April 20th, 1944)

    2. Which says nothing at all about the morality of natural family planning.


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