“54. 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.”
Again, the primary purpose of sex is reproduction, not pleasure. To seek the latter without the former is a grave sin. We don’t yet know, though, what constitutes frustration. However, I think it’s safe to say that this warning applies not only to any use of artificial methods of contraception, but also the abuse of natural methods (whatever might constitute abuse).
“55. Small wonder, therefore, if Holy Writ bears witness that the Divine Majesty regards with greatest detestation this horrible crime and at times has punished it with death. As St. Augustine notes, “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.”[St. August., De coniug. adult., lib. II, n. 12, Genesis 38:8-10]”
There seems to be a great deal of disagreement amongst scholars and theologians as to whether Onan’s sin was spilling his seed or failing to help his sister-in-law conceive an heir for his deceased brother. Therefore, I’ll leave that point alone and just move on.
“56. Since, therefore, openly departing from the uninterrupted Christian tradition some recently have judged it possible solemnly to declare another doctrine regarding this question, the Catholic Church, to whom God has entrusted the defense of the integrity and purity of morals, standing erect in the midst of the moral ruin which surrounds her, in order that she may preserve the chastity of the nuptial union from being defiled by this foul stain, raises her voice in token of her divine ambassadorship and through Our mouth proclaims anew: any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.”
Here, Pius XI lays the smackdown on the Anglican Communion and reiterates his statement that to deliberately frustrate the generate functions of the marital act is a grave sin.
“58. As regards the evil use of matrimony, to pass over the arguments which are shameful, not infrequently others that are false and exaggerated are put forward. 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.”
“60. We are deeply touched by the sufferings of those parents who, in extreme want, experience great difficulty in rearing their children.”
“61. However, they should take care lest the calamitous state of their external affairs should be the occasion for a much more calamitous error. No difficulty can arise that justifies the putting aside of the law of God which forbids all acts intrinsically evil. There is no possible circumstance in which husband and wife cannot, strengthened by the grace of God, fulfill faithfully their duties and preserve in wedlock their chastity unspotted. This truth of Christian Faith is expressed by the teaching of the Council of Trent. ‘Let no one be so rash as to assert that which the Fathers of the Council have placed under anathema, namely, that there are precepts of God impossible for the just to observe. God does not ask the impossible, but by His commands, instructs you to do what you are able, to pray for what you are not able that He may help you.'”
In other words, there is no valid excuse for doing that which is intrinsically evil. God does not ask the impossible. To claim that avoiding the sin of frustrating the marital act is impossible in some instance is to claim that God has lied and will not or cannot provide the necessary help to avoid sin.
“63. But another very grave crime is to be noted, Venerable Brethren, which regards the taking of the life of the offspring hidden in the mother’s womb…”
Just for good measure, in paragraphs 63-66, he throws in a reminder that abortion is immoral – even to save the life of the mother. For, “however much we may pity the mother whose health and even life is gravely 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?” I think His Holiness mentions it here because abortion is essentially last-chance contraception. Pius also speaks at length about the evils of divorce. I won’t quote it here for fear of getting off track, but I think it’s relevant to the topic. Remove childbearing from the definition and purpose of marriage is just one of the steps in destorying the institution altogether. First, remove the Church. Then, remove childbearing. Then, remove permanence. Then, remove heterosexuality. Then, remove monogamy. And so it goes until marriage is a thing of the past. But I digress.
“91. To conclude with the important words of Leo XIII, since the destruction of family life ‘and the loss of national wealth is brought about more by the corruption of morals than by anything else, it is easily seen that divorce, which is born of the perverted morals of a people, and leads, as experiment shows, to vicious habits in public and private life, is particularly opposed to the well-being of the family and of the State. The serious nature of these evils will be the more clearly recognized, when we remember that, once divorce has been allowed, there will be no sufficient means of keeping it in check within any definite bounds. Great is the force of example, greater still that of lust; and with such incitements it cannot but happen that divorce and its consequent setting loose of the passions should spread daily and attack the souls of many like a contagious disease or a river bursting its banks and flooding the land.'[Encycl. Arcanum, 10 Febr. 1880.]”
“92. Thus, as we read in the same letter, ‘unless things change, the human family and State have every reason to fear lest they should suffer absolute ruin.'[Encycl. Arcanum, 10 Febr. 1880.] All this was written fifty years ago, yet it is confirmed by the daily increasing corruption of morals and the unheard of degradation of the family in those lands where Communism reigns unchecked. “
Continuing in his decrying of divorce, Pius reminds his readers that more than any other reasons, be they war, famine, or plague, corruption of morals has destroyed civilizations. To him, divorce is a pandora’s box of passions. Without going in to details, he says that once marriage is wounded by the permission of divorce, lustful sins will “spread daily and attack the souls of many like a contagious disease”. Presumably, he means sins like pornography, rape, prostitution, and promiscuous extramarital sex. Pius warned, quoting Leo XII’s encyclical Arcanum, that ‘unless things change, the human family and State have every reason to fear lest they should suffer absolute ruin.’ It bothered him that fifty years later Leo’s warnings were coming true, especially “in those lands where Communism reigns unchecked”. And now, seventy-six years after this encylcical, those corruptions of morals and degradations are commonplace in lands where Democracy reigns. *sigh*
“104. Wherefore, let the faithful also be on their guard against the overrated independence of private judgment and that false autonomy of human reason. For it is quite foreign to everyone bearing the name of a Christian to trust his own mental powers with such pride as to agree only with those things which he can examine from their inner nature, and to imagine that the Church, sent by God to teach and guide all nations, is not conversant with present affairs and circumstances; or even that they must obey only in those matters which she has decreed by solemn definition as though her other decisions might be presumed to be false or putting forward insufficient motive for truth and honesty. Quite to the contrary, a characteristic of all true followers of Christ, lettered or unlettered, is to suffer themselves to be guided and led in all things that touch upon faith or morals by the Holy Church of God through its Supreme Pastor the Roman Pontiff, who is himself guided by Jesus Christ Our Lord.”
In other words, private judgement must not be segregated from the public judgement of the Church. First of all, it’s a mistake to think that the Church is a moldy medieval institution that’s clueless about modern affairs and ignore her teachings as though they’re no longer relevant. Secondly, it’s also a mistake to think that the Catholic magisterium ends with the individual and has nothing to say about public affairs. Thirdly, obedience to Catholic teachings is not restricted to dogma; if the Church binds an action as sin, it is a sin. Lastly, all Catholics’ consciences should be formed and informed by the Church. A true follwer of Christ doesn’t check his faith at the door when he enters public forums.
Must. Resist. Tempation. To Make. Snarky. Remark. About. Catholic. Politicians…
“110. Even the very best instruction given by the Church, however, will not alone suffice to bring about once more conformity of marriage to the law of God; something more is needed in addition to the education of the mind, namely a steadfast determination of the will, on the part of husband and wife, to observe the sacred laws of God and of nature in regard to marriage. In fine, in spite of what others may wish to assert and spread abroad by word of mouth or in writing, let husband and wife resolve: to stand fast to the commandments of God in all things that matrimony demands; always to render to each other the assistance of mutual love; to preserve the honor of chastity; not to lay profane hands on the stable nature of the bond; to use the rights given them by marriage in a way that will be always Christian and sacred, more especially in the first years of wedlock, so that should there be need of continency afterwards, custom will have made it easier for each to preserve it. In order that they may make this firm resolution, keep it and put it into practice, an oft-repeated consideration of their state of life, and a diligent reflection on the sacrament they have received, will be of great assistance to them. Let them constantly keep in mind, that they have been sanctified and strengthened for the duties and for the dignity of their state by a special sacrament, the efficacious power of which, although it does not impress a character, is undying. To this purpose we may ponder over the words full of real comfort of holy Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, who with other well-known theologians with devout conviction thus expresses himself: ‘The sacrament of matrimony can be regarded in two ways: first, in the making, and then in its permanent state. For it is a sacrament like to that of the Eucharist, which not only when it is being conferred, but also whilst it remains, is a sacrament; for as long as the married parties are alive, so long is their union a sacrament of Christ and the Church.'[St. Rob. Bellarmin., De controversiis, tom. III, De Matr., controvers. II, cap. 6.]”
The Church ought to do everything in her power to educate and help married couples to live out their vocation well. However, couples must realize that they have an active role to play. The sacrament of matrimony makes graces available that couples should take advantage of. In other words, the Church can lead people to water, but she can’t force them to drink. The gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church, but that doesn’t mean some of her members won’t pass through them as the result of their own obstinance.
“119. When these means which We have pointed out do not fulfill the needs, particularly of a larger or poorer family, Christian charity towards our neighbor absolutely demands that those things which are lacking to the needy should be provided; hence it is incumbent on the rich to help the poor, so that, having an abundance of this world’s goods, they may not expend them fruitlessly or completely squander them, but employ them for the support and well-being of those who lack the necessities of life. They who give of their substance to Christ in the person of His poor will receive from the Lord a most bountiful reward when He shall come to judge the world; they who act to the contrary will pay the penalty. Not in vain does the Apostle warn us: ‘He that hath the substance of this world and shall see his brother in need, and shall shut up his bowels from him: how doth the charity of God abide in him?'”
“120. If, however, for this purpose, private resources do not suffice, it is the duty of the public authority to supply for the insufficient forces of individual effort, particularly in a matter which is of such importance to the common weal, touching as it does the maintenance of the family and married people. If families, particularly those in which there are many children, have not suitable dwellings; if the husband cannot find employment and means of livelihood; if the necessities of life cannot be purchased except at exorbitant prices; if even the mother of the family to the great harm of the home, is compelled to go forth and seek a living by her own labor; if she, too, in the ordinary or even extraordinary labors of childbirth, is deprived of proper food, medicine, and the assistance of a skilled physician, it is patent to all to what an extent married people may lose heart, and how home life and the observance of God’s commands are rendered difficult for them; indeed it is obvious how great a peril can arise to the public security and to the welfare and very life of civil society itself when such men are reduced to that condition of desperation that, having nothing which they fear to lose, they are emboldened to hope for chance advantage from the upheaval of the state and of established order.”
Is this a list of sufficiently grave reasons to avoid having a/another child? I’m not entirely certain, but I’m inclined to say it is not. It seems to me that the keys to understanding this paragraph are the phrases “it is patent to all to what an extent married people may lose heart, and how home life and the observance of God’s commands are rendered difficult for them” and “in the ordinary or even extraordinary labors of childbirth”. The implication of the first seems to be that difficulty in dutiful observance does not nullify the duty. These scenarios might lead a couple to believe that sucessfully raising a/another child would be impossible. Refer back to section 61 to remind yourself what Pius thought of “the impossible”. The implication of the second is that even these dire circumstances do not stop couples from having children.
Having said that, I think it is fair to treat the given list as containing examples of scenarios that at least represent the beginning of a clarification of serious/grave reasons. Let’s assume they are at the edge of “serious”, even if Pius may not have thought they were sufficiently serious to periodically abstain.. Here they are in list form.
- The family lives in an unsuitable dwelling.
- The husband cannot find employment and means of livelihood.
- The necessities of life cannot be purchased except at exorbitant prices.
- The mother of the family is compelled to go forth and seek a living by her own labor.
- The mother is deprived of proper food, medicine, and the assistance of a skilled physician during pregancy and after childbirth.
“121. Wherefore, those who have the care of the State and of the public good cannot neglect the needs of married people and their families, without bringing great harm upon the State and on the common welfare. Hence, in making the laws and in disposing of public funds they must do their utmost to relieve the needs of the poor, considering such a task as one of the most important of their administrative duties.”
That is, Christian brethren and, if need be, the civil government should assist families in caring for their needs. Particular attention is to be paid to the poor. To fail in this duty is to lead people to despair of being able to have a family at all. We Christians, in our ineptitude and laziness, are largely to blame for our society’s contraceptive attitude. Perhaps if we were more generous and supportive, more people would have the courage to marry and raise a family, knowing that they’d have help in times of trouble.
The rest of Casti Connubii is largely summary and conclusion. Section 53 seems to be the only reference to natural regulation of births Pius XI made in this encyclical. If someone finds another reference, let me know. We have now an idea of what some of the illicit uses of NFP would be, but we still don’t know much about its licit uses, though section 120 shed a little more light on the matter. The bright line rule still isn’t there. Actually, that’s not entirely true. There is a very bright line which a couple must not cross and that is the use of artificial contraceptives. What Lightwave and I are looking for, though, is a bright line rule for determining when abstinence from sex during fertile periods is licit. Perhaps Pius XII will provide some insight.