Saying ‘Not Now’ to the Supreme Gift: The ‘Gravity’ of NFP

Deacon Jim Russell - NFP Gravity

\"Deacon

Transmitting human life is serious business.

Not only that, transmitting human life is a *most* serious business. Pope Paul VI says in the opening line of his prophetic encyclical Humanae Vitae, “The transmission of human life is a most serious role (munus gravissimum) in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator.”

He says it’s not just “serious”—it’s the superlative of serious. That’s how important transmitting human life is.

Still, some Catholics appear uncomfortable with using the word “grave” to describe the reasons a married couple might use Natural Family Planning (NFP) to say “not now” to this “most serious” munus of transmitting life. But I can’t quite see how transmitting life could be a munus gravissimum while the decision to postpone transmitting life could be anything less than the “superlative of serious.”

“Is it a good thing to be a person?” Pope Benedict XVI once asked in relation to having children. This is among the “grave” questions married couples must ask when choosing “yes” or “not now” via NFP. The answer is yes—and deciding whether to cooperate with God in bringing a person into existence is a decision of great gravity, precisely because it is always a good thing to be a person. Gaudium et Spes calls children “the supreme gift of marriage” and says that “by their very nature, the institution of matrimony itself and conjugal love are ordained for the procreation and education of children, and find in them their ultimate crown.” Married couples are amazingly blessed to be called by God to “pro-creation.”

We Can\’t Judge Anyone Else’s Discernment

But before going further, we need to clearly express another doctrine of the Church: You and I do not get to decide whether another married couple’s exercise of parenthood or use of NFP is “responsible” or not. It\’s not my business. This judgment remains too “superlatively serious” to belong to anyone but the married couple and God. No good comes from judging the “gravity” of another couple’s NFP decisions. And this works both ways, just like NFP does—does this couple have too many children? Does that couple have too few? Not my business.

“The parents themselves should ultimately make this judgment, in the sight of God,” as it says in Gaudium et Spes, #50. (Let that sink in.) “Thus, trusting in divine Providence and refining the spirit of sacrifice, married Christians glorify the Creator and strive toward fulfillment in Christ when, with a generous human and Christian sense of responsibility, they acquit themselves of the duty to procreate.” This responsibility belongs to each couple, not me or you.

‘Grave Reasons’? Absolutely!

What about the English term “grave”—can we use “grave” to describe the reasons responsible parents need when saying “not now” to transmitting life? Yes, since the Church herself does. But the Magisterium also uses other expressions, too (here’s a list of some):

 Pope Pius XII, Allocution to Italian Midwives, 1951:

-“sufficiently morally sure motives” (Italian: su motivi morali sufficienti e sicuri)

-“grave motives” (Italian: gravi motivi)

-“grave reason” (Italian: grave motivo)

-“serious motives” (Italian: seri motivi)

-“no such grave reasons” (Italian: simili gravi ragioni)

Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, 1968:

-“serious reasons” (Latin: seriis causis)

-“well-grounded reasons” (Latin: justae causae)

-“acceptable reasons” (Latin: probabiles rationes)

-“reasonable motives” (Latin: justas rationes)

Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 2368, 1992:

-“for just reasons” (Latin: justis de causis)

Add to this list the first line of Humanae Vitae from above (munus gravissimum). Isn’t it fair to conclude that our reasons for using NFP to say “not now” to transmitting new life ought to be, according to magisterial teaching, most serious, just, reasonable, morally sure, well-grounded, acceptable…and therefore “grave”? Don’t our reasons for using NFP need to have a certain “gravity”? After all, we’re making a choice whether to be open to the God-given privilege of assisting Him in the very work of creation, and God’s not done yet. Creation changes—for the better (remember the “and it was good” line from Genesis?)—every time a new soul comes into existence. So it’s not wrong to conclude that the good and just reasons to say “not now” to this great gift are also necessarily “grave” reasons.

‘Contraceptive Mentality’ in NFP? Entirely Possible…

One more thing: Can the “not now” to pro-creation that is the language of moral use of NFP become an immoral “No!” to pro-creation when using NFP? Of course it can, and if such a flawed moral intention exists in an NFP user, it can rightly be referred to as a “contraceptive mentality.”

But NFP is not contraception! (Right?)

Of course right! But the term introduced by Pope John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio was not “contraception mentality”—rather, he spoke there of a “truly contraceptive mentality.”

The phrase “truly contraceptive mentality” involves the adjective “contraceptive” and not the noun “contraceptive” or “contraception.” Big difference. For Pope John Paul II, the term “contraceptive mentality” involves a mindset that is contra (against) the transmission of new life. He did not use the term to express a mindset that was merely for contraception. In fact, in Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II specifically contrasts the term “contraceptive mentality” with the term “responsible parenthood”: “It may be that many people use contraception with a view to excluding the subsequent temptation of abortion,” he says. “But the negative values inherent in the ‘contraceptive mentality’–which is very different from responsible parenthood, lived in respect for the full truth of the conjugal act–are such that they in fact strengthen this temptation when an unwanted life is conceived.” (EV 13)

Further evidence of this magisterial understanding of “contraceptive mentality” is found in the Pontifical Council for the Family’s 1995 document The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality (#136), in which the “contraceptive mentality” is directly referred as “the ‘anti-life’ mentality.”

Can NFP be used with an “anti-life” or “contraceptive” mentality? It sure can. Pope Pius XII in his 1951 Allocution to Italian Midwives mentions the case of a spouse who enters marriage with the deliberate intention to always abstain during the fertile time. Not only would this constitute an obviously contraceptive (anti-life) mentality within the use of NFP, but it would likely represent an “essential defect in the marriage consent,” he said.

So, we don’t need to let terminology create division among Catholic NFP users. Quibbling over terms used consistently by the Magisterium seems both counterproductive and misguided, in my view.

In fact, go back and read the above paragraph about “not my business” regarding responsible parenthood. Maybe we can also all agree that it’s “not my business” whether a brother or sister Catholic wants to use the terms “grave” or “contraceptive mentality” if done in accord with their use by the Magisterium? I’d say the “gravity” of the situation demands of us less arguing and more responsible parenting.

So instead let’s pray for all married couples: May God give them the grace and the means both to say an enthusiastic “yes!” to new life whenever possible, and a sober “not now” when just, serious—and grave—reasons require it.

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43 thoughts on “Saying ‘Not Now’ to the Supreme Gift: The ‘Gravity’ of NFP”

  1. Deacon Russell, There is nothing in the bible thats supports NFP at all. Pope Paul VI was totally shady. See for yourself. Canonizing Pope Johm Paul II will only reinforce the use of NFP discussed in the catechism. Encouraging people to be pro-life and to
    celebrate life as our Lord instructs
    us to…while at the same time teaching
    couples how to legalistically steer around
    God’s intention for new life is confusing and
    inconsistant to
    the Word of the Lord. Its not confusing
    hard to understand its confusing because
    it’s contradictory to itself.
    The promptings to promote NFP are not
    from
    God their from hell…unless God is a liar!
    Genesis 1 v. 28… God blessed them saying
    be fertile and multiply fill the earth and
    Natural family planning is anything but
    natural. Natural means leaving it to God’s
    divine providence. Not checking your
    spouses vaginal mucus levels before sex.
    That’s just
    weird. Additionally… when a woman is
    ovulating is when she most wants to be with
    her husband in a marital embrace and her
    body releases a pherimone that signals to
    her spouse that the time is right. Now that’s
    natural! Stop being a stumbling
    block for confused il formed Catholics. What
    your trying to justify, and what The Lord
    says all throughout the bible are two
    completely different assertions. Do not
    hinder the children. Shame on you
    lukewarms…
    you’re supposed to be obedient to the Pope
    not follow him off a cliff. By the way NFP is
    both contraception and birthcontrol…check
    your websters!

  2. I appreciate what you quoted about the married couple being “ordained for the procreation…” For as Grisez notes, the married couple needs no reason whatsoever to embrace intimately. That’s a hefty claim, but supported by the fact that when people know an act is life-giving, their embarking on it places them in relationship to that beckoning good. If human life were reducible to something else, or was dispensable, no such ordination would make sense.

    Therefore, what I think is special about the “grave” reason is its novelty. It is a step-change to exit a system where I need no reason to embrace, and suddenly assert there is a reason I not embrace, or to state conditions under which I will embrace. Such would call into question the marriage itself, and indeed it does; the abstinence is either against the fortitude of vows, the irreducible good of life, or is directed for some other legitimate good of the marriage. None of those 3 are trivial.

    On the other hand, I don’t think a couple needs to fret. One’s attitude toward the _conditions_ upon which they will or will not act does not necessarily imply their precise reason for acting. They can intend the care of their family, and place conditions on when they will embrace. But a change in intention could transpire through the same abstinence, since abstinence, unlike swallowing anovulents and erecting barriers, can be interpreted either way. The overt acts of contraception are meaningless in themselves, and thus cannot be said to be acts of “nurturing the family.” Abstinence, however, is performed daily to nurture the family (such as when cooking and cleaning). I notice the gravity of 1st-person intention most explicitly in Veritatis Splendor 78. Thanks for your post.

  3. In dealing with any Vatican document, it is good to remember that certain Italian and Latin terms do not necessarily have the same implications as similar English terms. As we know with Pope Francis’s recent interviews, a lot can be lost (or unintentionally added) in translation.

    That being said, words have meaning, Deacon, and sloppy use of them does no one any favors.

    In Catholic teaching, the terms “contraceptive” and “contraceptive mentality” have very specific meanings. “Contraception” specifically refers to “frustrating the marital act”. (See Casti Connubii) The “contraceptive mentality”, as discussed by JPII, is quite not the same as an anti-life mentality, but a hedonistic mentality that puts a disordered priority on pleasure. Pius XII is likewise talking against the problems of hedonistic philosophies about marriage in most of his speech. The “contraceptive mentality” sees sexual pleasure at the highest good and promotes spiritually, relationally, and physically unhealthy activities to get it.

    The Church does not see NFP as contraceptive at all, but as a form of abstinence. (If complete abstinence is licit in marriage, then periodic abstinence is also licit.) Talking about “NFP with a contraceptive mentality” is like talking about “dieting with a bulimic mentality” or “exercising with a doping mentality”—a complete oxymoron. Such talk only serves to confuse the faithful.

    Instead, any misuse of NFP would be more like overexercising or chronic undereating—the exact opposite problem. If the “contraceptive mentality” is too little self-control, overuse of NFP is too much. The problem is not too much sex, but too much abstinence, which is far from hedonistic or pleasurable. Calling this a “contraceptive mentality” likely grossly misdiagnoses the problem.

    The problem of the “overcontrol” mentality can be seen in Japan. Japan has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world. Yet the Japanese have largely rejected hormonal birth control and their abortion rate is a fraction of that of the United States. What’s the problem? Young Japanese aren’t getting married or even having sex!

    The solution is something along the lines of this article.
    http://thefederalist.com/2013/10/29/surprising-ingredient-pro-life-culture/

    1. Hi, James—thanks for commenting. You wrote:

      ****In dealing with any Vatican document, it is good to remember that certain Italian and Latin terms do not necessarily have the same implications as similar English terms. As we know with Pope Francis’s recent interviews, a lot can be lost (or unintentionally added) in translation. That being said, words have meaning, Deacon, and sloppy use of them does no one any favors.****

      True enough, which is why I suggest using the terms used by the Magisterium in the sense the Magisterium uses them. For example, with
      the word “grave,” dictionary definitions include “serious,” “solemn,”, “sober,”
      “weighty,” “momentous,” “important,” etc. I think such definitions for “grave”—and thus “grave” itself—comport with Magisterial use relative to “reasons to use NFP.” But “grave” is just *one* adjective among several used by the Magisterium, and thus we should be aware of and understand the whole range of adjectives used *as* they are used by the Magisterium.

      ****In Catholic teaching, the terms “contraceptive” and “contraceptive mentality” have very specific meanings. “Contraception” specifically refers to
      “frustrating the marital act”. (See Casti Connubii) The “contraceptive mentality”, as discussed by JPII, is quite not the same as an anti-life
      mentality, but a hedonistic mentality that puts a disordered priority on
      pleasure.****

      Well, that line of thinking seems too restrictive, compared to what the Pontifical Council for the Family said in its “Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality” document in 1995: “136. In the first place, parents must reject secularized and anti-natalist sex education, which puts God at the margin of life and regards the birth of a child as a threat. This sex education is spread by large organizations and international associations that promote abortion, sterilization and contraception. These organizations want to impose a false lifestyle against the truth of human sexuality. Working at national or state levels, these organizations try to arouse the fear of the ‘threat of over-population’ among children and young people to promote the contraceptive mentality, that is, the ‘anti- life’ mentality.”

      So, a Magisterial document refers to the “contraceptive mentality” as “the ‘anti-life’ mentality.” Which is what I say above….

      ***Talking about “NFP with a contraceptive mentality” is like talking about “dieting with a bulimic mentality” or “exercising with a doping mentality”—a complete oxymoron. Such talk only serves to confuse the faithful.***

      I disagree, based on how the magisterium equates the “contraceptive
      mentality” with the “anti-life mentality” rather than, say, a “for-pleasure
      mentality.”

      ***** If the “contraceptive mentality” is too little self-control, overuse of NFP is too much. The problem is not too much sex, but too much abstinence, which is far from hedonistic or pleasurable. Calling this a “contraceptive mentality” likely grossly misdiagnoses the problem.****

      Again, let’s focus on what the Magisterium has to tell us. As such it’s quite clear that one may use NFP with an “anti-life mentality,” correct? Pius XII seemed to think so. And, if the Magisterium is willing to view the “contraceptive mentality” as “anti-life” and not merely “pro-pleasure,” then I’d suggest that we the faithful can see it that way, too.

      Thanks much for your comment. I appreciate you reading the post.

    2. Let’s look at the entire “Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality” Section 136.

      http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/family/documents/rc_pc_family_doc_08121995_human-sexuality_en.html

      First is the part you quote:

      “In the first place, parents must reject secularized and anti-natalist sex education, which puts God at the margin of life and regards the birth of a child as a threat. This sex education is spread by large organizations and international associations that promote abortion, sterilization and contraception. These organizations want to impose a false lifestyle against the truth of human sexuality. Working at national or state levels, these organizations try to arouse the fear of the “threat of over-population” among children and young people to promote the contraceptive mentality, that is, the “anti- life” mentality. They spread false ideas about the “reproductive health” and “sexual and reproductive rights” of young people.”

      Yes, the contraceptive mentality is an anti-life mentality, but there’s more. Here is the rest:

      “Furthermore, some antinatalist organizations maintain those clinics which, violating the rights of parents, provide abortion and contraception for young people, thus promoting promiscuity and consequently an increase in teenage pregnancies. “As we look towards the year 2000, how can we fail to think of the young? What is being held up to them? A society of ‘things’ and not of ‘persons’. The right to do as they will from their earliest years, without any constraint, provided it is ‘safe’. The unreserved gift of self, mastery of one’s instincts, the sense of responsibility — these are notions considered as belonging to another age”.”

      The rest of Section 136 shows that the “contraceptive mentality” is associated with abortion, contraception, promiscuity and contrasted with gift of self AND self control and responsibility. It’s not just an anti-life mentality, but an anti self-control mentality.

      Overcontrolling may be a problem, but its a completely different one than the “contraceptive mentality” the Church is referring to.

    3. James–as long as we can agree with the Magisterium that the “contraceptive mentality” is an “anti-life mentality”, then we should be able to agree that if someone were to use NFP with an “anti-life mentality,” they, according to the Magisterium, can be described as doing so with a “contraceptive mentality.” Sure, using *contraception* (noun) does not require the “self-control” that NFP requires. But JPII’s term is not “*contraception* mentality,” it’s “contracept-ive” (adjective, not noun). This is why it seems unhelpful, in my view, to try to say NFP cannot be used with a “contraceptive mentality”–according to the mind of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, it most certainly can.
      Indeed, it is the very lack of self-mastery that leads to the anti-life mentality–the mindset that is truly contra-(against) -ceptive (new life). It’s a big “both/and”.

    4. No, I’m afraid we can’t agree. Because while the contraceptive mentality is anti-life, an anti-life mentality is not necessarily contraceptive. You are treating these two as synonymous when the Magisterium clearly does not. You are combining two different issues into one.

      My question to you is can one abstain with a contraceptive mentality? What would you call the mentality of a person who doesn’t want children and, therefore, never has sex.

      I would say no. Abstinence and contraception are mutually exclusive behaviors. To talk about abstinence with a contraceptive mentality is absurd.

      One can abstain for all the wrong reasons, I think we can agree there, but even so, the mentality is not contraceptive.

      As the Church sees NFP as no more than periodic abstinence, talking about NFP with a contraceptive mentality is equally absurd.

    5. Sorry we can’t agree. When the Magisterium says “the contraceptive mentality, that is, the ‘anti-life’ mentality,” I presume that an “anti-life mentality” describes a mentality that is against new life–that is, “contraceptive.”
      Above you illustrate the “big difference” I mention in the post–between the *noun* (contraception) and the *adjective* (contraceptive). JPII first used “truly contraceptive mentality”–an adjective, not a noun. By saying that “abstinence” (noun) and “contraception” (noun) are mutually exclusive, you are correct. I would *never* use the phrase “contraception” (noun) mentality, for the record.
      But it’s not “absurd” to speak of abstinence with a contraceptive mentality, as made clear in what Pope Pius XII said about a marriage entered into in which one spouse intends to refuse any/all relations during the fertile time for the whole marriage. That’s a “contraceptive mentality” applied to periodic abstinence.
      But, again, no one *has* to use this term–but let’s acknowledge that one *can* use the term in a sense that clearly applies to NFP.

    6. “But it’s not “absurd” to speak of abstinence with a contraceptive mentality, as made clear in what Pope Pius XII said about a marriage entered into in which one spouse intends to refuse any/all relations during the fertile time for the whole marriage.”

      Then what are your thoughts on Josephite marriages?

    7. James–re “Josephite marriages,” my understanding would be that, even in that scenario, such a marriage must be both ratified and consummated, even if by mutual agreement the spouses renounce the natural rights of marriage “for the sake of the Kingdom” after consummating the marriage. This applies to us, but obviously not to Mary and Joseph.
      But continence for the sake of the Kingdom is not a “contraceptive mentality.”
      I still believe you are missing an essential distinction between *contraception* as a moral *act* and “contraceptive” as a moral *intention*.
      The Church clearly teaches that NFP as *act* (or even “non-act” so to speak) is obviously not “contraception.” Yet she also clearly teaches that one’s “mindset” (mentality) can contain a moral *intention* that is opposed to conceiving new life (anti-life or contra-ceptive). These are two very different realities.
      But, using your language above, one *can* say the “act” of marital relations *is* altered by both moral object and moral intention. When a spouse expresses the “anti-life” moral intention of reserving *all* relations to the infertile times without *any* regard for discerning responsible parenthood, then *every* marital act accomplished during the infertile times are–by *intention*–“closed” to the transmission of life.
      By not being “open” to the transmission of life in moral intention, while the physical *act* is not altered such that it is intrinsically evil, the moral intention of the very same act reveals in the intellect and will of the spouse the very *separation* of the unitive and procreative dimensions of the marital act that Humanae Vitae says must be “inseparable.”
      In a similar way, for example, an act of rape is considered evil because it possesses the very opposite “intentionality” of the “unitive” dimension of sex. Similarly, if one were to engage in marital relations with a clearly formed moral intention to *separate* the procreative dimension from the unitive–even during an infertile time–the moral quality of the moral act becomes “contraceptive” in the will of the spouse despite obviously *not* being “contraceptive” according to the “thing done” (the physical act itself).

    8. “By not being “open” to the transmission of life in moral intention, while the physical *act* is not altered such that it is intrinsically evil, the moral intention of the very same act reveals in the intellect and will of the spouse the very *separation* of the unitive and procreative dimensions of the marital act that Humanae Vitae says must be “inseparable.””

      Deacon, by this reasoning, you have made ALL use of NFP “contraceptive”. A couple who has serious reason to avoid pregnancy and limits their relations to the infertile days wants the unitive aspects of sex but does not want another baby. Yet you claim such behavior “separates” the unitive and procreative dimensions. How is this permissible under Church teaching—even in the case of serious reasons?

      Humanae Vitae 16 quite clearly spells out what it does and does not mean to separate the unitive and procreative dimensions of sexuality and why contraception does this and NFP does not.

      “Neither the Church nor her doctrine is inconsistent when she considers it lawful for married people to take advantage of the infertile period but condemns as always unlawful the use of means which directly prevent conception, even when the reasons given for the later practice may appear to be upright and serious. In reality, these two cases are completely different. In the former the married couple rightly use a faculty provided them by nature. In the later they obstruct the natural development of the generative process. It cannot be denied that in each case the married couple, for acceptable reasons, are both perfectly clear in their intention to avoid children and wish to make sure that none will result. But it is equally true that it is exclusively in the former case that husband and wife are ready to abstain from intercourse during the fertile period as often as for reasonable motives the birth of another child is not desirable. And when the infertile period recurs, they use their married intimacy to express their mutual love and safeguard their fidelity toward one another. In doing this they certainly give proof of a true and authentic love.

    9. Well, not quite, James–and here’s why: the “moral intention” of the act has everything to do with “responsible parenthood.” Thus, multiple scenarios can arise:
      1. good moral intention (responsible parenthood) + good moral object (use of NFP) = moral good.
      2. good moral intention (responsible parenthood) + *bad* moral object (contraception) = moral evil. [and *this* is the scenario envisioned, I think, by HV 16 as you quote above–distinguishing between #1 and #2]
      3. *bad* moral intention (“anti-life” or “contraceptive” mentality) + *bad* moral object (contraception) = moral evil.
      4. *bad* moral intention (“anti-life” or “contraceptive” mentality) + *good* moral object (use of NFP) = moral evil.
      Of these four, only *one* (the first) yields a morally acceptable choice. In terms of intention, the good intention to say “not now” to new life arising from responsible parenthood is morally distinguishable from the *bad* intention to say “not now” (or even “no!”) to new life arising from a *distorted* view of the value of the human person (an intention contrary to responsible parenthood).

    10. Nobody is arguing with that deacon, but whatever mentality case 4 comes from, it is not “contraceptive”.

      I think we are talking in circles, but I will leave you with this.

      Moral theologian, Fr. John Hardon discusses the use of “rhythm”, the predecessor to NFP. From Hardon’s writing, it appears as if “rhythm” could be abused to the point of sin, but only if done over a long period of time and only to avoid parenthood. The magisterium has never put forward any definitive definition of when the use of NFP becomes an abuse.

      “Generally, though, rhythm is used to avoid or postpone pregnancy, and then the reasons must be correspondingly more demanding. Apart from these reasons, the exclusive use of the so-called “safe period” over a long space of time is sinful. Catholic moralists differ on the seriousness of the sin, and some even teach that no sin would be committed if the couple had already contributed their share toward the preservation of the human race.”

      “On the other hand, it is possible for Catholics to be swept along with the tide and seriously to look upon rhythm as a kind of “Catholic birth control:” They may forget that birth control is the abuse, periodic continence is the non-use, of conjugal rights. If family limitation is sought in both cases (as it would be even among celibates), the means are totally different. The one is always sinful, while the other is morally indifferent.”

      Talking about using NFP with a “contraceptive mentality” blurs that stark moral contrast.

      http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Moral_Theology/Moral_Theology_007.htm#mt7_10

    11. James, let me point out a few key passages from Fr.
      Hardon that are actually making *my* point more than yours:

      1. … it appears as if “rhythm” could be abused to the point of sin, but only if done over a long period of time and only to avoid parenthood.”

      This is what I’ve been saying—a moral intention to avoid
      responsible parenthood.

      2. “Generally, though, rhythm is used to avoid or
      postpone pregnancy, and then the reasons must be correspondingly more demanding. Apart from these reasons, the exclusive use of the so-called “safe period” over a long space of time is sinful.”

      And this is what Pius XII alludes to above regarding entering a marriage with the intention of avoiding having children by having relations only during the infertile time.

      3. “On the other hand, it is possible for Catholics to
      be swept along with the tide and seriously to look upon rhythm as a kind of ‘Catholic birth control’: They may forget that birth control is the abuse, periodic continence is the non-use, of conjugal rights.”

      And here Fr. Hardon *explicitly* indicates the possibility of a “contraceptive mentality” by acknowledging that it is possible
      for Catholics “to be swept along with the tide” and equate periodic continence as a form of “Catholic birth control.”

      Can you not see that, if a Catholic can be part of the “tide”—what tide? The contraceptive (birth control) “tide”—then that Catholic has a moral intention that easily falls under the category of a “truly contraceptive mentality,” which above you and I agree is both “anti-life” and “anti-self-control.”

      And it’s not the “talking about” NFP use with a “contraceptive
      mentality” that “blurs” the moral contrast between NFP and contraception—it’s the possible *use* of NFP in this way that blurs what should be a clear distinction. And it does no one any good to form a pretense that this blurring doesn’t or can’t happen—Fr. Hardon makes clear it can happen. Is it “rare” in
      NFP use? I’d certainly think so. But “rare” doesn’t mean “impossible.”

      This has been my point all along—since the magisterium
      sees the term “contraceptive” as an *adjective* and not a noun in the term “contraceptive mentality”, then we can’t merely opt to restrict it to mean the noun form. We need to make room for the term as used by the magisterium. And no one “must” use the term, but likewise no one should be criticized for using the term, either.

      James, our discussion above has added some more depth to
      the post, for which I’m grateful. Thanks for the comments.

    12. Two questions:

      1. Does the Magisterium ever talk about NFP using the concept ‘contraceptive mentality’?

      2. I presume that someone can use contraception for ‘responsible parenthood’, that is, couples can use contraception with the same intentions that are considered legitimate when using NFP.

      However, wouldn’t there still be a ‘contraceptive mentality’ when they use contraception for ‘responsible parenthood’?

      ‘Contraceptive mentality’ has to mean something even when a couple are using contraception with legitimate reasons. If so, then whatever it means must be different than simply avoiding parenthood.

      Therefore, ‘contraceptive mentality’ is not the same thing as an ‘anti-life’ mentality in the sense that you want it to have when talking about NFP.

      If it were, then someone using contraception for legitimate purposes would *not* have a contraceptive mentality, which is absurd.

    13. Hi, Brian–I cannot say for sure whether there are documents I’m unfamiliar with, but I have yet to see any from the past 30-plus years (since JPII first used the phrase “truly contraceptive mentality”) in which the magisterium speaks either *directly* for or against using the term in relations to the moral intention associated with NFP use.
      However, I propose above that the example from Pius XII fits the idea perfectly.
      As to question two, I think that’s where folks are getting concepts conflated–indeed, I think in HV 16 mentioned above, Paul VI seeks to make the distinction between moral “objects” clear by stating that the self-same intention (that is a good and moral intention arising from correctly understanding responsible parenthood) can be formulated by two couples, one using NFP and one using contraception, but only *one* couple is committing an intrinsically evil act.
      That is an example in fact of a couple *without* the “contraceptive mentality” as expressed by JPII and others but *still* using contraception immorally.
      You are, in fact, shedding more light on this by asking this question. This is because it’s really *not* absurd to imagine a scenario in which a couple, perhaps utterly ignorant of any moral distinction between NFP and contraception, actually use contraception with otherwise legitimate moral intention, as imagined above by Pope Paul VI in HV 16…

    14. Jim,

      That can’t be right. Let’s say couple A is using contraception for just reasons and couple B is using NFP for unjust reasons.

      Now we must say that couple B has a ‘contraceptive mentality’ even though they aren’t using contraception, and couple A *doesn’t* have a ‘contraceptive mentality’ even while they’re using contraception!

      You have defined ‘contraceptive mentality’ so that it no longer has any relation to actual contraception. But regardless of whether or not the reasons for spacing or avoiding births are just, there is still something wrong with using contraception. And it’s the mentality associated with that wrongfulness that is called a ‘contraceptive mentality’.

      If the Church says that the contraceptive mentality is ‘anti-life’, whatever it means in relation to contraception cannot be the same as what it means in relation to the intention of people who are avoiding pregnancy.

      The reason why the contraceptive mentality is anti-life is not because of someone’s intentions, but because contraception is not even a procreative kind of act. It has no relation to procreation, by design.

      That can’t be said of someone who is using NFP, justly or unjustly. They are still performing a procreative kind of act.

      That’s why contraception is linked more closely with abortion and not NFP as PJII was saying.

      So the contraception mentality can indeed be anti-life in virtue of the kind of act it is, but someone using NFP cannot be anti-life in this sense. You are introducing an equivocation into the whole discussion.

    15. Actually, Brian, I’m trying to avoid the *conflation* of “contraceptive” and “contraception.”
      At the least, then, you are understanding my intention–that, *yes*, one may have a “contraceptive mentality” while using NFP, and one might indeed use *contraception* (wrongly of course) even when their moral intention to avoid children by saying “not now” is actually the fruit of responsible parenthood.
      Here’s a case to consider: 2000 years ago, a favored form of “contraception” involved potions purported to have certain magical or occult properties.
      Let’s say a woman opts to use such a potion–which really has *no* effect on conception at all–did she therefore actually “use” *contraception*? Or was she exhibiting a “contraceptive mentality” while acting in a manner that was itself non-contraceptive?
      Another case: When a teen girl receives the “pill” today, supposedly to regulate cycles, but is not sexually active, does she possess a “contraceptive mentality” merely by taking the “pill”? It’s “contraception,” right?
      Do you see how such a divergence is entirely possible between a contraceptive “mindset” and a “contraception”…mechanism?

    16. Let’s say a woman opts to use such a potion–which really has *no* effect on conception at all–did she therefore actually “use” *contraception*? Or was she exhibiting a “contraceptive mentality” while acting in a manner that was itself non-contraceptive?

      The act is contraceptive. The fact that it didn’t actually work does not change the moral character of the act or of the intention behind it.

      Another case: When a teen girl receives the “pill” today, supposedly to regulate cycles, but is not sexually active, does she possess a “contraceptive mentality” merely by taking the “pill”? It’s “contraception,” right?

      No, it is hormone therapy. The fact that it is also marketed as a contraceptive is irrelevant.

      If the woman were married and sexually active, such use would be governed by the principle of double effect.

      (Whether this is good medicine or not is beyond the scope of this discussion.)

    17. Brian, why do you see unjust reasons as contraceptive reasons? I don’t think an unjust reason could ever constitute a contraceptive reason, since contraception is intrinsically against all reason.

    18. Jim, I think you should distinguish between the intention that makes the moral object exist, and the ulterior or emotional intention. The contraceptor always chooses the moral object of: “I choose to act against the coming-to-be of any possible person.” The NFP practitioner can immorally bring this state of affairs into existence without positive action, and thus contracept . . . but they don’t have to. The upright NFP moral object is: “protect the goods in my life; avoid the occasions where a child could be conceived, and hope that he isn’t conceived.” That’s 100% holy and morally excellent.

    19. “Then that Catholic has a moral intention that easily falls under the category of a “truly contraceptive mentality,” which above you and I agree is both “anti-life” and “anti-self-control.”

      Actually using NFP to avoid pregnancy requires quite a bit of self-control. The couple must abstain from relations when they most desire them. How could such a practice, regardless of the motivation, be “anti-self-control”? I’m not following you.

    20. Think of it this way: the virtue of “self-control” is not merely reducible to one area–in this case, the area of controlling one’s self so as to be periodically continent. The capacity for sexual abstinence does not automatically mean one has a capacity for self-control in every other area of the passions. And the kind of “anti-self-control” mentioned as part of a “truly contraceptive mentality” may exist *apart* from periodic abstinence–e.g., one who is a devout materialist might well prefer abstaining from sex during the fertile time to risking having a child whose “cost” would prohibit the person from enjoying the lavish life-style he/she is accustomed to.
      So we can’t just think of “self-control” here in terms of how it applies specifically to abstinence….

    21. And the kind of “anti-self-control” mentioned as part of a “truly contraceptive mentality” may exist *apart* from periodic abstinence–e.g., one who is a devout materialist might well prefer abstaining from sex during the fertile time to risking having a child whose “cost” would prohibit the person from enjoying the lavish life-style he/she is accustomed to. “

      I would say that such a person has an excess of self-control. Such devout materialists often live very disciplined, almost over-controlled lives. They don’t need to learn self-control, they need to loosen up.

      I also believe that many contraceptive users fall into this category of overcontrolling instead of a lack of self-control. A common side effect of hormonal birth control is that it makes women less interested in sex and men less interested in them. Many women hate being on it. Why do they take it? Control. They are told they are being responsible and that it will give them more control over their bodies.

    22. Jim, a question about 4:

      I see Veritatis Splendor 78 telling us that intention _helps constitute_ the moral object, not that it superadds to the object to make a bad act. So I think it’s question-begging to say NFP is always morally good, because that’s the whole point of Church teaching, as it already supposes an upright intention. I think what we should say instead is that timed abstinence can be ordered to God, but only if it actually is so willed. What do you think?

    23. Hi, Henry–probably have a twofold way to approach this: first from the standpoint of moral object of the act, and second from the standpoint of moral intention of the act.
      So, firstly, the “act” (as in “thing done”) is not purely equivalent to the “moral object” of a moral decision. So, in *both* cases–periodic abstinence & contraception–the “act” (thing done) can at times be *either* morally permissible *or* morally wrong. An “act,” for example, of using a contraceptive spermicide post-rape may appear to be the self-same “act” done by a woman pre- or post- marital relations, but the moral *object* of each of these is different–a rape victim *can* seek contraception while a married woman cannot, because the construction of the moral object of each act remains vastly different.
      Second, moral “intention” affects the object such that it *cannot* make an intrinsically evil object good, BUT it can make a good object sinful. That’s a starting point, but it can get more complex because sometimes moral objects considered by the will *do* contain aspects of intention (and circumstances that necessarily change the “object,” such as rape vs. marital relations in the example above.
      So, re NFP, yes, one cannot really say that NFP(meaning an “act” of periodic abstinence) is “always morally good”–rather, one should say that NFP is *not* intrinsically evil by virtue of its object (by virtue of its *object*, it would be considered morally good/acceptable).
      Yet, this moral object (use of NFP) *can* get corrupted by an immoral intention. Hence the convo above re “contraceptive mentality.”
      Already too long, but I hope this helps a bit? Not easy distinguishing physical act or “thing done,” moral object of the will, moral intention, etc. in our moral decision making…

    24. Let’s take one small example for my sake, I appreciate your patience. I’m not sure how circumstances change the object at all. In the rape case:

      Act: apply spermicide.
      Object: Keep man’s body off of woman’s body.

      The object here is (a) orderable to God [post-rape], (b) the same object even if the man is her husband.

      Thus, if she intends the object in (a), it’s morally licit. In (b) it might still not be contraception, because she hasn’t willed the object which is to impede life, but she has willed to act dualistically, which in the absence of other reasons becomes contraceptive by default because she initiated a relationship (intercourse) toward the good of human life that she cannot now morally reverse without acting against that same good.

      Conclusion: I don’t see that the object changed, nor did her intention. Circumstances merely put that object out of reasonable reach. She must first act dualistically before she can even choose it, and that’s the sin.

      ****Case 2****
      Act: D&C procedure.
      Object: End this baby’s life so my man will stay with me.

      My point is that the intention is already implied in the object that is 100% un-orderable to God. The orderable/un-orderable object is meaningless without considering 1st-person intention.

      Are we pedaling in tandem?

    25. I hope we are “in tandem” on this–frankly, I can’t quite tell yet. The CCC (1749 ff.), btw, has a good rendition of the “sources of morality” (object, intention, circumstances). Regarding the first case, it’s going to boil down to how much information we seek to identify in the “moral object”–this is the part in which some “circumstances” (let’s call them “primary” elements in contrast to the “secondary elements” that do not constitute part of the “object” of the will) do change the nature of the moral object.
      I’m not sure the “object” is well-defined in the first case.
      In the second case, the “object,” in my view, as defined, includes the “intention” (which is not essential to defining the “object” of abortion, which could be simply said to be “end this baby’s life”–an already-intrinsically evil “matter” of a human act). Thus “so my man will stay” is the intention but not the object, even though it’s essential to evaluating the morality of the action.

    26. Thanks for your thoughts; I would be interested to know how you would spell out the object in Case 1. Per 2, I think staying with the boyfriend is the “ulterior” intention JP2 says in VS78 cannot make the evil object good. But my point is that CCC 1751 says that in the moral object, the intention is necessarily engaged, or the moral object doesn’t exist. “Deliberately directed will” = intention.

      Therefore, your (4) seems to say: “We could intend abstinence as the protection of existing goods, but then ruin that intention by ulteriorly intending against the coming-to-be of life.” That seems impossible to pull off on a case-by-case basis, for it says the intention is simultaneously 2 different things.

      What I think makes timed abstinence contraceptive, therefore, is the intention on 2 possible levels. (i) Timed abstinence can instantiate the moral object of: “starve the human race of babies,” and this happens exclusively via the intention of a
      megalomaniacal agent in specifying the moral object. (ii) While each, individual, episode of timed abstinence may be undertaken with a pure intention to protect existing goods,
      the adoption of the entire timed abstinence project could be contraceptive; it could be undertaken to unilaterally deny the end of marriage (or of a fornicative relationship) already engaged.

      Could these be valid points?

    27. Henry, regarding simultaneous intentions, compare with CCC #1752: “One and the same action can also be inspired by several intentions…” Thus NFP use in my “4th” scenario could be inspired by a mixture of intentions–including a bad one–that would make the moral decision sinful.
      As to your last paragraph, it seems to me to be a question of the relationship of individual concrete acts to a whole “cascade” of acts considered as an integral whole. It would seem to me that we’d still have to work from the “inside out”, so to speak–by assessing the morality of each component before being able to declare the morality of the whole–it’s sort of why Paul VI did not accept the “principle of totality” as proposed before Humanae Vitae–whereby as long as “some” acts of marital relations remained open to transmitting life, then “some other” acts could be closed to life via contraception.
      Hope that helps a bit–wish I could be clearer, but my head gets to spinning on some of this after a while!
      God bless,
      JR

    28. James, how certain are you that the Church proposes in her documents the comprehensive definition of what contraception is? The inseparable connection is not derived (since philosophy is not the Church’s mission), and is very easy to factually break, for example when a woman has a diseased uterus removed; her subsequent intimacy will have ontological isolation from its natural end. Would you say that such a necessary surgery is _impossible_ to be undertaken with an intention against the coming-to-be of new life?

    29. There is nothing morally wrong with removing a diseased uterus. Nor is there anything morally wrong with using hormonal therapy to treat hormonal disorders, even if said therapy is marketed primarily as birth control pills.

      In the case of a married (i.e. sexually active) woman, such actions fall under the principle of double-effect.

      Pius XII addressed all of this when the Pill first came out. (Unfortunately, the Vatican only has the Spanish language version. This is the best English language source I could find.)

      http://www.pamphlets.org.au/australia/acts1454.html

    30. My objection is that just because the Church consistently references a dominant example of contraception, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other examples, where a positive act is omitted. And regarding self-control, what if a 3rd party dopes the couple’s water supply? I would say he has willed the moral object of contraception . . . but not that it was motivated by lust.

    31. I would say that would be a type of poisoning, not contraception. It would be a violation of the Fifth Commandment (an offense to the body of others), not the Sixth (adultery/sexual sin)

    32. Yes, and I would say all contraception is intrinsically an offense against the body of others (the possible person, and the spouse being treated dualistically). I don’t see contraception as being a sexual sin at all.

  4. “Grave” however is in the least authoritative document…a speech. Both Pope Paul VI in a higher document, an encyclical, and the catechism seemed to have chosen not to repeat “grave” from that allocution maybe because “grave” not in its denotation but in its connotation has a manipulative effect on thousands of ordinary people that is unfortunate ie it paralyzes some into thinking the family must be starving before a true reason is present to postpone procreation.

    1. Hi, and thanks for the comment. The reason I think it’s not out of the question to use the term “grave” as expressed by Pius XII (whom I would guess would still see his own word choices as “authoritative” even if they are seen as “least authoritative”) is because it certainly corresponds to how Paul VI uses the term “munus gravissimum” in the first line of HV itself. If we understand that *transmitting* life is, according to HV a “most serious” thing, then it would seem that choosing *not* to transmit life has a corresponding “most-seriousness” about it, so to speak.
      But as I say above, *all* these words are words to use as the Magisterium understands them–and I’d add that one shouldn’t focus *only* on “grave” (for the very reason you suggest) but rather *keep* “grave” alongside all the other words the Magisterium uses. I think couples who do that will come to discern what responsible parenthood should mean for them, before God. Thanks again for your thoughts!

  5. Pingback: Dangerous Road f/Imam to Catholic Preacher: Mario Joseph - Big Pulpit

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