Casti Connubbii Condemns NFP
I've covered this ground many times before, and it has come up again recently.
In the year of our Lord, 1930, Pope Pius XI issued an Encyclical (linked above via the Vatican web site) that reiterated the Church's condemnation of birth control.
Here's a critical sentence, no. 54, quoted in my comboxes recently as evidence that NFP is not condemned, but soley artificial contraception:
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.Yes. Those who practice NFP are doing nothing during the conjugal act to frustrate its natural power. But why is frustrating the natural power of procreation during conjugal acts considered immoral?
The answer lies precisely in the very sentence quoted (supported by others). In the very sentence quoted, frustrating procreation during the act is immoral because the "conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children".
This is not only its power, but its purpose.
In no. 17, we see this little nugget:
The primary end of marriage is the procreation and the education of children.Granted, that speaks of marriage overall, rather than specific acts.
In no. 59, we have the phrase that would eventually lead to the development of NFP.
As you read this passage in a moment, bear in mind the historical circumstances.
The process of conception was only discovered in the nineteenth century.
Natural family planning as practiced by conservative Catholics today could not possibly date to Apostolic times, when conception was not understood for 1900 years.
Some theologians throughout the centuries had speculated prior to this discovery that all non-reproductive sex was murder, under the mistaken impression that the sperm contained a full person.
While this mistake never really caught on with the majority consensus, for 1900 years, the Church had taught officially that the primary purpose of sex was procreation.
With the possible exception of the period of menstration, it was commonly believed that all sex acts had procreative potential up until the nineteenth century.
And the Book of Leviticus forbids sex during menstration, which most traditional societies just consider gross.
It was even debated whether infertile heterosexuals could marry prior to Casti Connubbii.
NFP as we know it was not developed at the time Pius XI wrote Casti Connubbi - nor was the rythmn method a common idea yet, if it was known to the Pope at all.
Furthermore, in the immediately preceeding paragraphs to the passage that would give rise to NFP, it is clear he is addressing confessors.
Pius seemed concerned that by upholding that procreation is the primary end of conjugal acts, some confessors may be too harsh to promote scupulosity.
He also seemed concern that people may use the periods of infertility in a woman's cycle to deny that the purpose of sex remains procreation.
The concern no. 59 will address is not how to avoid conception, but whether it is appropriate to unintentionally have sex on days you discover were infetile.
With all of this prelude, here's no 59, which would lead to the development of NFP, with bold added for emphasis:
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 the matrimonial rights 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 and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved.All other ends of conjugal love must be subordinated to the primary end, which is already established as procreation.
My question is this:
When a couple deliberately avoids conjugal acts during fertile days, and deliberately engages in conjugal acts on days where infertility is a certainty, how are they acting in a manner that "subordinates" matrimonial rights to "its primary end" ?
Let's look at an earlier passage, no. 55, quoting Augustine:
Intercourse even with one's legitimate wife is unlawful and wicked where the conception of the offspring is prevented. Onan, the son of Juda, did this and the Lord killed him for it.It is argued that Onan deliberately frustrated the act itself.
Most contemporary Bible scholars, referring to passages such as Dt. 25:5-10, believe that Onan's sin was refusal to carry on his brother's line.
But let's ignore the entire sentence about Onan, and what do we have in this quote from Augustine as used in Casti Connubbii?
Intercourse even with one's legitimate wife is unlawful and wicked where the conception of the offspring is prevented.Doesn't NFP involve intercourse with one's legitimate spouse where the conception of offspring is prevented?
Yes, it is prevented by an ommission (as Onan omitted to ejaculate inside of Tamar while she was fertile).
NFP should be immoral according to the clear and consistent reasoning of Casti Connubbii.
Many readers are familiar with the SSPX (Society of Saint Pius X).
This is a large schismatic sect devoted to the Latin Mass that broke away under Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre after Vatican II.
Interestingly, most of them read Casti Conubbii exactly the way I do.
Some folks ignore this since the SSPX is schismatic.
My point is that this group of schismatics rejects all deveopments in theology that have occurred since 1962, and reflects much of the common thinking of the Pre-Vatican II Church.
Thus, they provide living and breathing evidence that the way Pius XI intended to be understood was nothing at all like what Paul VI wrote in 1968 in Humanae Vitae.
That is my point.
As hard as it is, we must try not to read Casti Conubbii through the lens of later developments.
We must pay close attention to what it actually says in its own historical and literary context.
When we do this, it becomes clear how radical Humanae Vitae is by permitting intentional non-reproductive sex and even encouraging it if it expresses unitive love.
Humanae Vitae admits that "responsible parenthood" may legitimately lead a couple to desire to limit child births. It admits that conjugal acts can be celebrated with no procreative intentions through natural family planning. Unitive love can suffice as the sole purpose in expressing conjugal love.
This is a radical break with the past.
This completely pulls the rug out from under why we thought using contraception was intrinsically immoral.
We already saw in the first quote above that the reason deliberately frustrating procreation in conjugal acts was considered immoral is that procreation was seen as the natural primary end of conjugal acts and their very purpose.
Thus, if conjugal acts may be intentionally engaged in that are known to be infertile, there is no longer a reason to say contraception is intrinsically evil.
It is a genuine change in doctrine!
And if the Church could change that radically, we can ask if further development of this notion of unitive love may lead us further in radical changes in the ways we think about morally licit sex?