Answer: Natural Family Planning obstructs the primary end of marriage: the procreation and education of children. This makes the fact that NFP does nothing to obstruct the marital act itself irrelevant.
In order to quickly refute this most common of all objections in favor of NFP, it will be necessary to repeat the section from the beginning of this article.
Catholic dogma teaches us that the primary purpose of marriage (and the conjugal act) is the procreation and education of children.
Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii (# 17), Dec. 31, 1930: “The primary end of marriage is the procreation and the education of children.”
Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii (# 54), Dec. 31, 1930: “Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural powers and purpose sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious.”
Besides this primary purpose, there are also secondary purposes for marriage, such as mutual aid, the quieting of concupiscence and the cultivating of mutual love. But these secondary purposes must always remain subordinate to the primary purpose (or end) of marriage (the procreation and education of children). This is the key point to remember in the discussion on NFP.
Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii (# 59), Dec. 31, 1930: “For in matrimony as well as in the use of the matrimonial right there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider SO LONG AS THEY ARE SUBORDINATED TO THE PRIMARY END[that is, Procreation of children] and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved.”
Therefore, even though NFP does not directly interfere with the marital act itself, as its defenders love to stress, it makes no difference. NFP is condemned because it subordinates the primary end (or purpose) of marriage and the marriage act (the procreation and education of children) to the secondary ends.
NFP subordinates the primary end of marriage to other things, by deliberately attempting to avoid children (i.e., to avoid the primary end) while having marital relations. NFP therefore inverts the order established by God Himself. It does the very thing that Pope Pius XI solemnly teaches may not lawfully be done. And this point crushes all of the arguments made by those who defend NFP; because all of the arguments made by those who defend NFP focus on the marriage act itself, while they blindly ignore the fact that it makes no difference if a couple does not interfere with the act itself if they subordinate and thwart the primary PURPOSE of marriage.
To summarize, therefore, the only difference between artificial contraception and NFP is that artificial contraception frustrates the power of the marital act itself, while NFP frustrates its primary purpose (by subordinating the procreation of children to other things).
Objection: I know that NFP is always wrong, except for certain reasons, and in those cases it is allowable.
Answer: Pope Pius XI specifically condemns all reasons and all excuses.
Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii (# 54), Dec. 31, 1930: “BUT NO REASON, HOWEVER GRAVE, MAY BE PUT FORWARD by which anything intrinsically against nature may become conformable to nature and morally good. Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural powers and purpose sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious.”
No reason, however grave it may be, can make something that is intrinsically evil, such as contraception or NFP, to become good. NFP subordinates the primary purpose of the conjugal act (the procreation and education of children) to other things and is therefore evil and against nature and infallibly condemned by the Church, the Bible, and God. No reason can make it good or lawful.
And this brings us to another point. If NFP is not a sin – if it is simply “natural,” as they say – then why can’t married couples use NFP during the whole marriage and have zero children? If NFP is not a sin, then all women are perfectly free to use this method of birth control to phase out of existence all children so that not even one is born! But basically all of the defenders of NFP would admit that it would be immoral and gravely sinful to use NFP to avoid all new life. But when they make this admission they are admitting that NFP is a sin; otherwise (which God may forbid) let them confess that it can be used by all couples for any reason to avoid all children.
Objection: Everyone admits that “Natural Family Planning” can be used to help a woman achieve a pregnancy. Therefore, the same method can be used to avoid pregnancy.
Answer: There is nothing wrong with achieving a pregnancy.
If a couple is using Natural Family Planning to gain a pregnancy it is lawful, because in this case they are trying to fulfill the primary end of marriage (the procreation and education of children). If a couple is using Natural Family Planning to avoid pregnancy it is unlawful, because in this case they are trying to avoid the primary end of marriage (the procreation and education of children) while selfishly engaging in the marital act.
Objection: In Casti Connubii itself, Pope Pius XI teaches that spouses can engage in the marital act during known infertile periods and not commit sin. Spouses who use Natural Family Planning attempt to only have marital relations during the known infertile periods, thus they commit no sin.
Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii: “Nor are those considered as acting against nature who, in the married state, use their right in the proper manner, although on account of natural reasons either of time or of certain defects, new life cannot be brought forth. For in matrimony as well as in the use of matrimonial rights there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivation of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider, so long as they are subordinated to the primary end[Procreation of children] and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved.”
Answer: It’s permissible to engage in the marital act during the known infertile periods, SO LONG AS CONCEPTION IS NOT DELIBERATELY FRUSTRATED BY AN ORGANIZED EFFORT.
Yes, Pope Pius XI taught that married couples could use their marriage right in the infertile periods of the wife (or when there is a defect of nature or age which prevents new life from being conceived). But he did not teach that they could designedly restrict the marital act ONLY to the infertile periods to avoid a pregnancy, as in Natural Family Planning. (Although it is not sinful to have relations during the known infertile periods of the woman, it is still best to remain chaste during this time period in order to nurture virtue and holiness.)
Contraception or NFP does not just subordinate the primary end of childbearing to the quenching of concupiscence, but it eliminates the primary end altogether by the spouses’ refusal to fulfill the primary end or purpose of marriage while they are performing the marital act for purely selfish reasons.
And this is why, in the very passage quoted above, Pope Pius XI reiterates that all use of the marital right – including when new life cannot be brought forth due to time or nature – must keep the secondary ends of marriage subordinate to the primary end! This teaching is the deathblow to NFP, as NFP itself is the subordination of the primary end of marriage (the procreation and education of children) to other things (lust and the avoiding of children). So, in summary, the passage above does not teach NFP, but merely enunciates the principle that married couples may use their conjugal rights at any time.
It is not a sin of contraception to engage in the marital act during the known infertile period, provided the known fertile period has not been deliberately frustrated in order to prevent conception, either by inhibiting it by the use of birth control pills or some other contraception method or avoiding it by the use of Natural Family Planning. If the spouses know conception cannot take place, and they did not deliberately plan to prevent conception, they can perform the marital act without committing any sin of contraception provided they desire having children. This does not rule out other sins that can occur during the marital act, such as using it to excite or inflame lust instead of quelling lust, or using it in an unnatural and abusive manner. These sins can be committed even when childbearing is a goal of the marital act.
Therefore, even when the spouses engage in the marital act to quell concupiscence during known infertile periods, they must still desire and hope to have children if God wills they should have children. The act must still have as its primary goal the conception of children, which means to desire and be open to all new life and not hindering it from taking place in any way or form, even though the spouses believe conception cannot occur. In this way the quelling of concupiscence is subordinate to the primary end of the act, which is childbearing.
Objection: The sin of contraception is committed when physical devices are used during the marital act so as to prevent conception. NFP does not use a physical device during the marital act to prevent conception, thus the marital act is left open to conception if God so wills it. Therefore, Natural Family Planning is not contraception.
Answer: All methods of contraception are open to conception.
Just as the use of Onanism and Birth Control Pills are no guarantee that conception will not occur, because it does, so also, Natural Family Planning is no guarantee that conception will not occur, because it does. They are all open to conception if God so wills it. The sin of contraception has thus nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that God can make conception happen, in spite of the spouses’ deliberate plan not to make it happen. The mortal sin of contraception lies in the intent of the spouses, not whether conception actually happens or not.
All marital acts, no matter what contraception method is used, are open to conception if God so wills it. God opens barren wombs past the childbearing years. If the spouses’ Natural Family Planning succeeds according to their desires and careful planning, then, conception will not take place when they engage in the marital act. I say if it succeeds, because no form of contraception is 100 percent guaranteed. Even men who had vasectomies and women who had their tubes tied or hysterectomies still conceive children sometimes. The fact that conception can take place, even after spouses had planned to prevent it, does not allow the spouses the excuse that the act is still open to conception. Because, according to their premeditated plan and intent it is their hope that the marital act is not open to conception, and that is where the mortal sin lies.
For example, is a man who plots to murder another man innocent if an accident prevents him from murdering the man? Even though the murder did not occur, he is guilty because he wanted to murder him. Mortal sin is committed in the intent, even if for some reason the crime cannot be carried out. A married man desires to commit adultery with a woman. He attempts to carry out his plan, but God thwarts it, and he does not succeed. Is this man innocent because his plan and attempted act of adultery failed? No! He is guilty of the mortal sin of adultery because adultery was in his heart. He would have committed it if God did not prevent it. Our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us this truth many times, “I say to you, that whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28) If after the man failed, he continued to plan and attempt to commit adultery with the woman, he would be guilty of mortal sin every time, whether the plan and attempt succeeds or not.
What is a plan? A plan is the words of a man that proceed from his mouth that come forth from his heart that he seeks to put into action. The root of every plan is in the heart. What is in the heart of spouses who plan to use physical contraceptive devices during the marital act, or plan to withdraw so as to make conception improbable, or plan to have marital relations only during the infertile period? In the heart of these spouses is the desire to have marital relations to satisfy their vile and perverse lust while having deliberately planned to prevent conception. Pope Pius XI in Casti Connubii describes what is in their heart, “Offspring... they say is to be carefully avoided by married people... by frustrating the marriage act... [They] deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose.” Sin originates from what is in the heart. I ask spouses who practice NFP, “What is in your heart when you practice NFP?” While engaging in the marital act, after having planned to do so only during the infertile period, ask yourself in the heat of your lust, “Am I not committing this very act with the explicit, deliberate, premeditated, planned intention of preventing conception while fulfilling my lust?” If your wish or prayer is to have relations and that conception does not occur, then you committed the mortal sin of contraception.
St. Augustine, On Marriage and Concupiscence 1:17, A.D. 419: “It is one thing not to lie [with one’s wife] except with the sole will of generating [children]: this has no fault. It is another to seek the pleasure of the flesh in lying, although within the limits of marriage: this has venial fault [that is, venial sin as long as one is not against procreation]. I am supposing that then, although you are not lying for the sake of procreating offspring, you are not for the sake of lust obstructing their procreation by an evil prayer or an evil deed. Those who do this, although they are called husband and wife, are not [since they commit adultery in their marriage and a mortal sin]; nor do they retain any reality of marriage, but with a respectable name cover a shame [of an adulterous connection, which means that they sin mortally against the Sacrament of Marriage]. They give themselves away, indeed, when they go so far as to expose their children who are born to them against their will; for they hate to nourish or to have those whom they feared to bear. Therefore a dark iniquity rages against those whom they have unwillingly borne, and with open iniquity this comes to light; a hidden shame is demonstrated by manifest cruelty. Sometimes this lustful cruelty, or cruel lust, comes to this, that they even procure poisons of sterility, and, if these do not work, extinguish and destroy the fetus in some way in the womb, preferring that their offspring die before it lives, or if it was already alive in the womb to kill it before it was born. Assuredly if both husband and wife are like this, they are not married, [since they commit adultery in their marriage and a mortal sin against God] and if they were like this from the beginning they come together not joined in matrimony but in seduction. If both are not like this, I dare to say that either the wife is in a fashion the harlot of her husband or he is an adulterer with his own wife.”
All one needs to know if the sin of contraception has been committed is to ask oneself while engaging in the marital act, “Do I desire and hope conception takes place if God should grant it?” If you answer no, you committed the mortal sin of contraception. If you answered yes, while having planned by NFP for conception not to take place, you add a mortal sin of lying to the mortal sin of contraception. For if you really wanted conception to take place you would not have planned to prevent it.
It is the unwillingness to conceive a child while engaging in the marital act that constitutes the mortal sin of contraception, and if there was a premeditated plan to prevent conception, then the mortal sin is committed before the act as soon as the plan is consented to.
St. Augustine, Against Faustus 15:7, A.D. 400: “You [Manicheans] make your Auditors adulterers of their wives when they take care lest the women with whom they copulate conceive. They take wives according to the laws of matrimony by tablets announcing that the marriage is contracted to procreate children; and then, fearing because of your law [against childbearing]… they copulate in a shameful union only to satisfy lust for their wives. They are unwilling to have children, on whose account alone marriages are made. How is it, then, that you are not those prohibiting marriage, as the Apostle predicted of you so long ago [1 Tim. 4:1-4], when you try to take from marriage what marriage is? When this [childbearing] is taken away [by a deliberate plan], husbands are shameful lovers, wives are harlots, bridal chambers are brothels, fathers-in-law are pimps.”
Objection: Natural Family Planning (NFP) can be both sinful and not sinful. It is sinful if it is used as a method of contraception, which is to stop the chance of conceiving because children are not desired. It is not sinful if it is used because of a medical condition, such as the wife’s reproductive system is damaged placing her and her infant in danger of death if she was to conceive and bear children. In this case NFP is not used to prevent conception because children are not desired, but to prevent the possible death of the wife and infant.
Answer: The medical condition is no excuse.
Natural Family Planning is contraception. Therefore, it cannot be practiced for any reason. Pope Pius XI condemned contraception for any and all reason, no matter how grave, specifically mentioning the medical excuse of “difficulties… on the part of the mother” and the excuse of “difficulties… on the part of family circumstances.”
Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii (#’s 53-54), Dec. 31, 1930: “Others say that they cannot on the one hand remain continent nor on the other can they have children because of the difficulties, whether on the part of the mother or on the part of family circumstances. But, no reason, however grave, may be put forward by which anything intrinsically against nature may become conformable to nature and morally good. Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose, sin against nature, and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious.”
The thing that he is talking about that is “intrinsically against nature” is contraception and all the various forms and disguises it takes. If the mother and/or infant would be in danger of death due to pregnancy, and provided the couple doesn’t want to risk the death of the mother and/or infant, then the spouses must refrain from the marital act, not just during the fertile period but also the infertile period. Pope Pius XI refers to this as “virtuous continence.” Or, if they do engage in the marital act, they must not deliberately plan to prevent conception or deliberately plan to have relations only during known infertile periods. They must desire to have children if God wills they should have children, and they must bear the consequences of the wife and infant’s possible death if the wife gets pregnant, while favoring the life of neither if pregnancy occurs; and most importantly of all, they must never perform an abortion or in anyway murder the child in favor of the life of the mother in case a dangerous pregnancy occurs, but must risk the life of both while favoring the life of neither. Pope Pius XI sums this up as follows:
Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii (# 64), Dec. 31, 1930: “As to the ‘medical and therapeutic indication’ to which, using their own words, we have made reference, Venerable Brethren, however much we may pity the mother whose health and even life is imperiled in the performance of the duty allotted to her by nature, nevertheless, what could ever be a sufficient reason for excusing in any way the direct murder of the innocent? This is precisely what we are dealing with here. Whether inflicted upon the mother or upon the child, it is against the precept of God and the law of nature: ‘Thou shalt not kill’. The life of each is equally sacred, and no one has the power, not even the public authority, to destroy it… Holy Mother Church very well understands and clearly appreciates all that is said regarding the health of the mother and the danger to her life. And who would not grieve to think of these things? Who is not filled with the greatest admiration when he sees a mother risking her life with heroic fortitude, that she may preserve the life of the offspring which she has conceived? God alone, all bountiful and all merciful as He is, can reward her for the fulfillment of the office allotted to her by nature, and will assuredly repay her in a measure full to overflowing.”
Further, scripture teaches that a woman shall be saved through child-bearing (if she is Catholic and in the state of grace). Therefore, a good Catholic woman has absolutely nothing to fear from child-bearing, even if her life is threatened: “Yet she shall be saved through child-bearing; if she continue in faith, and love, and sanctification, with sobriety.” (1 Timothy 2:15)
If the mother or infant’s life is threatened by child bearing, then either the marital act is abstained from altogether by virtuous continence, or it is done with the hope of conception if God should grant it, being ready to bear the consequences of the death of the mother or the infant.
Objection: But we simply cannot afford more children, therefore we must use NFP. Our situation is clearly an exception...