Investigating NFP: Pius XII

Click here to read the previous post in this series.

I have recently come to the (re)realization that bishops are the authoritative teaching body of the Church. As such, it is their responsibility to properly and effectively teach such sticky subjects as the regulation of births. However, those teachings must be in accord with the Bishop of Rome and magisterium of the Church, so I still think there is merit in exploring the relevant papal documents. Let us then continue by hearing the thoughts of Pope Pius XII.

I had thought that Pius XII had written an encyclical about contraception. As it turns out, the only statements he made about the subject were in in various allocutions (addresses) to associations of doctors and the like. These don't carry nearly the same weight as encyclicals and are certainly not infallible. An exploration of the doctrinal authority of papal allocutions can be found here, but I cannot vouch for its accuracy. Nevertheless, Paul VI quotes from these addresses extensively in Humane Vitae, thus lending some of theauthority of an encyclical. I searched for the texts of these addresses and only found the 1951 Address to Midwives on the Nature of Their Profession and the 1958 Address to Officers and Representatives of the Associations for Large Families-of Rome and of Italy. If anyone knows where I might find the rest of them, I'd be indebted. Anyhow, here's the address to midwives.

"When one thinks of this admirable collaboration of the parents, of nature and of God, from which is born a new human being in the image and likeness of God, how can the precious contribution which you give to such a work be not appreciated? The heroic mother of the Machabees admonished her children: 'I know not how you were formed in my womb, for I neither gave you breath, nor soul, nor life, neither did I frame the limbs of every one of you. But the Creator of the world that formed the nativity of men . . ..' [Machabees 7:22-23a]"

"Therefore, he who approaches this cradle of life's origin and exercises his action in one way or another must know the order which the Creator wishes maintained and the laws which govern it. For here it is not a case of purely physical or biological laws which blind forces and irrational agents obey, but of laws whose execution and effects are entrusted to the voluntary and free cooperation of man."

"This order, fixed by the supreme intelligence, is directed to the purpose willed by the Creator. It embraces the exterior work of man and the internal assent of his free will; it implies action and dutiful omission. Nature places at man's disposal the concatenation of the causes from which will rise a new human life, it is for man to release its loving force, for nature to develop its course and lead it to its completion. When man has completed his part and placed in action the marvelous evolution of life, his duty is to respect its progress in a religious manner, a duty which forbids him to arrest nature's work or halt its natural development."

Put more succinctly, the sexual act is inherently one of procreation. It is a participation in God's work as Creator. This work is not to be performed at the sole discretion of an individual or couple.

"You, more than others, can appreciate and realize what human life is in itself, and what it is worth in the eyes of sane reason, before your moral conscience, before civil society, before the Church and, above all, what it is worth in the eyes of God…The child is 'man,' even if he be not yet born, in the same degree and by the same title as his mother."

"Besides, every human being, even the child in the womb, has the right to life directly from God and not from his parents, not from any society or human authority. Therefore, there is no man, no human authority, no science, no 'indication' at all—whether it be medical, eugenic, social, economic, or moral—that may offer or give a valid judicial title for a direct deliberate disposal of an innocent human life, that is, a disposal which aims at its destruction, whether as an end in itself or as a means to achieve the end, perhaps in no way at all illicit. Thus, for example, to save the life of the mother is a very noble act; but the direct killing of the child as a means to such an end is illicit. The direct destruction of so-called 'useless lives,' already born or still in the womb, practiced extensively a few years ago, can in no wise be justified[…]"

Like Pius XI before him, Pius XII felt the need to reemphasize the Church's strict prohibition against abortion. No reason, "whether it be medical, eugenic, social, economic, or moral", not even the life of the mother, can justify the "direct deliberate disposal of an innocent human life". I think it's sad that such an obvious point is so often ignored by Catholics that it must be restated ad nauseum. Skipping ahead a bit:

"Our Predecessor, Pius XI, of happy memory, in his Encyclical Casti Connubii, of December 31, 1930, once again solemnly proclaimed the fundamental law of the conjugal act and conjugal relations: that every attempt of either husband or wife in the performance of the conjugal act or in the development of its natural consequences which aims at depriving it of its inherent force and hinders the procreation of new life is immoral; and that no 'indication' or need can convert an act which is intrinsically immoral into a moral and lawful one."

This precept is in full force today, as it was in the past, and so it will be in the future also, and always, because it is not a simple human whim, but the expression of a natural and divine law."

He restates Pius XI's assertion that "no 'indication' or need can convert an act which is intrinsically immoral into a moral and lawful one". The intrinsically immoral act referred to is the use of artificial borth control. Historically speaking (and peeking ahead at the rst of this address), weknow that Pius XII approved of limited use of natural means of birth control, so it seems that he did not believe such natural methods to be intrinsically immoral. We'll get to that later, though.

"It would be more than a mere lack of readiness in the service of life if an attack made by man were to concern not only a single act but should affect the organism itself to deprive it, by means of sterilization, of the faculty of procreating a new life. Here, too, you have a clear rule in the Church's teaching to guide your behavior both interiorly and exteriorly. Direct sterilization— that is, whose aim tends as a means or as an end at making procreation impossible—is a grave violation of the moral law and therefore unlawful. Not even public authority has any right, under the pretext of any 'indication' whatsoever, to permit it, and less still to prescribe it or to have it used to the detriment of innocent human beings."

"This principle is already proclaimed in the above mentioned Encyclical of Pius XI on marriage. Thus when ten years or so ago sterilization came to be more widely applied, the Holy See saw the necessity of expressly and publicly declaring that direct sterilization, either perpetual or temporary, in either the male or the female, is unlawful according to natural law, from which, as you well know, not even the Church has the power to dispense."

Sterilization is forbidden – no ifs, ands, or buts about it. As far as the Church is concerned, not even civil authorities have the right to force it upon anyone (though one has to wonder how the Church would practically oppose such an inducement).

Comments 18

  1. Squat wrote:

    your “these statistics” link is a dead-end.

    Posted 19 Mar 2006 at 4:42 pm
  2. Funky Dung wrote:


    Posted 19 Mar 2006 at 5:40 pm
  3. Squat wrote:

    I’m also reading some Pius XII encyclicals and addresses and found this in an address to a concourse of women of Catholic Action and all their helpers from all the Dioceses of Italy reguarding the raising of children on The Feast of Christ the King, Oct.26,1941.

    “Train their hearts. Frequently the decision of a man’s destiny, the ruin of his character, or a grave danger threatening him, may be traced to his childish years when his heart was spoiled by the fond flatter, silly fussing, and foolish indulgence of misguided parents. The impressionable little heart became accustomed to see all things revolve and gravitate around it, to find all things yeilding to its will and caprice, and so there took root in it that boundless egoism of which parents themselves were later to become the first victims! All this is often the just penalty of the selfishness of parents who deny their only child the joy of having little brothers and sisters who, sharing in the mother’s love, would have accustomed him to think of others besides himself”

    Posted 19 Mar 2006 at 9:50 pm
  4. Sean wrote:

    I’ve enjoyed reading these posts and comments. It has certainly been enlightening. But I have a suggestion for a new topic, once this one has been sufficiently beaten into submission… What about folks who are single? And I mean single for a long time, single beyond the point at which they are likely to have children, maybe single for life? The Bible says “be fruitful and multiply”, yet the Bible also says if you can do it, its better not to marry.

    Some of us have managed to hit 40 without being married, and without the supernatural graces of ordination or religious vows helping us along. Single folks are single for tons of different reasons… some good, some bad. And I’ve even heard “singleness” referred to as a vocation like marriage or the priesthood. I have a hard time accepting the “single as vocation” concept outside of vowed or ordained religious life.

    But anyway, I’d be interested in some discussion on that topic… if anyone else is. If not, I’ll happily read whatever topic’s up next. 🙂

    Posted 20 Mar 2006 at 12:12 am
  5. Stuff wrote:

    Just a couple quick thoughts:

    I’m not entirely sure about the use of the word “eugenics,” and maybe someone with more specifically medical training would know more, but I’m pretty sure that there are very rare instances in which both parents are carriers of recessive genes that can cause miscarriage and/or extremely serious disease in almost every pregnancy. Or, at least, this may have been the case at the time of Pius’ writings of these documents. In such a case, I think the Church’s stance on “eugenics” is such that if you are absolutely certain to only miscarry or that every child you bear will die within a few years of birth, your circumstances are grave enough to postpone conception pending medical advances or whatever. Again, just a thought, no real backing.

    Also, as much as we all like finding hard data to support conclusions, I don’t think any exists for Pius’ assertions about the relationship between large families and individual/societal health. I will mention here that I toyed with the idea of writing a report on the effects of birth order/family size in my pre-pharmacy days (trying out of mainly pride and vanity to prove that my family of 5 kids, as disfunctional as we are, is still healthier than yours with 1 or 2 ;)). I found that most of the psychology studies that were done were performed from the viewpoint of proving that small families were just as good as large families, not the other way around. My conclusion is that we only study things that are not familiar, or not the norm. For such a long period of history, large families were considered normal and healthy, so no one felt they needed to prove that; it’s only when people started trying to limit family size that we had to prove it was O.K.

    One last thought about large families being willing to “sacrifice” one or more children to religious vocations. While I think you make a valid point, I don’t think yours outweighs the Pope’s: when you look at the families of saints, they’re usually big and there are usually a bunch of them that are at least Blessed, whatever they’re vocation. We just watched the movie “Therese,” by the way, and every single one of the daughters of the Martin family was a religious.:)

    Hmmmm…if that was the last thought, I guess this one is an afterthought!
    Sean, there is a whole big section entitled “Virginity for the Sake of the Kingdom” in John Paul II’s Theology of the Body that might be helpful to you. I think your situation is worth discussing, too!

    Posted 20 Mar 2006 at 1:34 pm
  6. Jerry wrote:

    Sean, I’d also recommend checking out some of the literature surrounding Opus Dei and its founder, Jose Maria Escriva. BYOCT (Bring your own conspiracy theories)

    Posted 20 Mar 2006 at 2:03 pm
  7. Anonymous Poster wrote:

    Posted 20 Mar 2006 at 3:12 pm
  8. Spacemouse wrote:

    Re the Eugenics issue:

    It’d be nice if someone with a background in the original language (Italian, in this case, since it’s an address to Midwives?) could look at the word that’s translated as “eugenic.” Going from the English, eugenic can simply mean “Relating or adapted to the production of good or improved offspring.” The Church doesn’t forbid couples to seek to have healthy (“good”) offspring: genetic screening and in-utero diagnosis ARE allowed for that very purpose. The Church does forbid parents to abort children with genetic conditions, of course, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Presumably, as Stuff points out, we’re just talking about parents avoiding conception because of genetic abnormalities likely to affect their children. With genetic counseling, it is indeed possible to get a good idea (ahead of time) what the odds are that a couple will have children with various disorders.

    In such a case, I think the Church’s stance on “eugenics” is such that if you are absolutely certain to only miscarry or that every child you bear will die within a few years of birth, your circumstances are grave enough to postpone conception pending medical advances or whatever. Again, just a thought, no real backing.

    This was pretty close to what I was going to say, except that I don’t know that you have to be “absolutely certain” that all the offspring will be miscarried/will die shortly after birth. I don’t think there are hard and fast rules, but I think a strong likelyhood of producing children with serious diseases is sufficient to justify avoiding conception.

    The fact that there aren’t hard guidelines saying “there must be more than a 50% likelyhood that the child will die” or “there must be a 99% chance that the child will die” may seem frustrating, but different couples have different breaking points. One couple might be willing to conceive, bear, and lose several children because of the hope that a healthy child might arrive. Another couple simply might be so broken hearted over one lost child that they could not face the probability that their next one would be similarly lost. For the second couple, a mere probability (rather than a certainty) that a future child would be lost may constitute a grave reason.

    Like Stuff, though, I don’t have anything “hard” to back that theory up with. It’s just the impression I’ve gathered from what I’ve read.

    Posted 20 Mar 2006 at 5:36 pm
  9. Funky Dung wrote:

    “The most merciful thing that a large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it.” – Maragret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood


    Posted 20 Mar 2006 at 5:45 pm
  10. sibert wrote:

    On NFP, various addresses, and the aggregate of Catholic traditional writings:
    “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that THE BIRDS OF THE AIR COME and NEST IN ITS BRANCHES.”
    Examine the symbolism of birds in the Bible…

    Posted 21 Mar 2006 at 9:26 pm
  11. Funky Dung wrote:

    Since I lack a concordance, could you humor us by at least pointing us to some verses?

    Posted 21 Mar 2006 at 10:31 pm
  12. Louise wrote:

    On the “eugenics” thing. I have a good friend who has four children. She and her husband use NFP and will be trying not to conceive any more children, because she now has a number of very serious medical problems which require her to take lots of prescribed medication which is seriously harmful to a growing baby in utero.

    If a child is conceived while she is taking such medication, there is a serious risk to the child’s life either in utero or after it is born. I think that in her situation, they are right to use NFP. It goes without saying, that if they do conceive, they will accept the child with love.

    Posted 21 Mar 2006 at 11:57 pm
  13. Tom Smith wrote:

    “And I’ve even heard ‘singleness’ referred to as a vocation like marriage or the priesthood. I have a hard time accepting the ‘single as vocation’ concept outside of vowed or ordained religious life.”

    Even though one inevitably sounds like an ass by saying this, I agree that it’s hard to see how there’d be a vocation to the single state. There are a few reasons that I don’t think that there exists a call to the single life. First, the three recognized vocations (priesthood, religious life, and matrimony) require one to take positive action (be it ordination, the vowing of the evangelical counsels, or nuptial vows) to enter, whereas all one need do to exercise single life is chill. Also, all three of the recognized vocations require a public profession of one’s desire to receive the status of that state of life (ordination, solemn profession of vows, or profession of marital vows). The approbation of the Church is required to enter the priesthood, religious life, or marriage, but not single life. Last, there is always a period of discernment before entering the priesthood (seminary training), religious life (one’s novitiate), and marriage (dating, pre-marital spiritual guidance), but not single life.

    We see that the single life does not share any of these things with the three known vocations; that’s why I think it’s rather clear that the single state does not represent a true vocation.

    Posted 26 Mar 2006 at 2:22 pm
  14. Laudemus wrote:

    But what about consecrated virgins? They are not members of religious congregations — they are laywomen, but consecrated to a life of chastity.

    Posted 26 Mar 2006 at 8:25 pm
  15. edey wrote:

    do they have to take any kind of action? do they have a public profession of vows? do they have a period of discernment? as far as i know, they don’t have a public profession of vows, but they might have the other two. enlighten me.

    Posted 26 Mar 2006 at 8:40 pm
  16. Spacemouse wrote:

    I know this is a late comment, but I’ve been meaning to comment on the “not rare” issue, since I do think this is crucial.

    If you spend any time at all dealing with probability and statistics, you’ll realize that “rare” and “not rare” are very vague concepts that need to be represented by numbers to be meaningful. Saying that difficulties “not rarely arise” only tells us that they might not be statistical outliers, which doesn’t tell us much.

    I think it’s worth asking whether Pius XII was a statistician, though. That is: is there any indication that he used the expression “not rare” (or rather, whatever the original was) in a statistical sense? I ask because if you look in a thesaurus, “uncommon” is listed as a synonym for “rare.” In English, the expression “not uncommon” would be a way of saying “common.” In other words, the reason that some people read “not rare” to mean that serious/grave reasons are common is because that’s what “not rare” DOES mean in normal English useage. I submit that an unbiased reader -one who came to the document with no opinion as to how common grave reasons are- would read “not rare” as roughly synonymous with “not uncommon.” (Perhaps there’s a rare to experiment on readers to find out?)

    It’s always possible that the translation is at fault, but to suggest that “not rare” simply means “not a statistical outlier” and that it’s thus possible that grave reasons are still pretty uncommon seems to me to be grasping at linguistic straws, unless there’s a reason for thinking that the translator had the statistical meaning rather than the commonly accepted meaning of the words in mind when he chose the phrase “not rare” instead of “not uncommon.”

    It’s true that “not uncommon” would still be vague, in that it wouldn’t give any indication of how much of the time an “average” couple might spend avoiding conception- but perhaps the vagueness is there because that Pius XII knew that it wasn’t possible for him (or any theologian) to predict how many times in the average couple’s life they’d have grave reasons to avoid.

    Posted 27 Mar 2006 at 12:03 am
  17. Jeremy Pierce wrote:

    For some women, pregnancy and/or childbirth could be fatal. How should they procede? Well, the answer seems to be that they should entirely refrain from the marital act. NFP is not perfect birth control. In fact, any such method might be forbidden by the Church as being hostile to fertility. Therefore, such an at-risk woman might unwittingly conceive and endanger her life and/or the life of her child.

    Getting on a plane could be fatal. So could going for a walk. In a case with similar chances of conception to the risk of dying on the highway in an accident, would you say that it thus makes it wrong to get on the highway? Or isn’t it just better to say that some things in life are worth doing, even if there’s a small chance of risking something serious happening?

    Posted 02 Apr 2006 at 8:21 pm
  18. Funky Dung wrote:

    That’s not quite the meaning I intended. My point was that if the danger of death for mother or child is great enough that one would periodically abstain (during fertile periods), one should totally abstain or not abstain at all (assuming that this health problem is the only grave reason for avoiding conception). That is, if you are so concerned about the health problem that you feel the need to rely on the 98%+ pregnancy avoidance success rate of correctly-used NFP, either you have underestimated the threat and should avoid intercourse entirely or you have overestimated it and should not be periodically abstaining. If it’s “a risk you are willing to take”, you’re essentially playing Russian roullete with one or more lives at stake. It’d be bad enough to endanger the mother’s life like that, but to play games with a child’s life is unconscionable.

    Posted 02 Apr 2006 at 11:10 pm

Trackbacks & Pingbacks 7

  1. From all kinds of time... on 06 Apr 2006 at 12:34 pm

    this idea is by use of Plato’s theory of forms. Are our emotions a test of our faith? Dory, of Wittenberg Gate argues that faith still abides, even during our darkest hours in Cold Emotions and Burning Faith. From Funky Dung at Ales Rarus -Investigating NFP: Pius XII – This is the third post in my series on natural family planning (NFP). It focuses on addresses given by Pope Pius XII. (Editor’s note: I have some good friends from my college days who recently got married. Apparently they hail from an NFP

  2. From A Song Not Scored For Breathing on 21 Mar 2006 at 4:34 pm

    capitalism, reflecting on what it means to see Christ in our neighbor and how the corporal works of mercy relate to labor rights. In a third post in his series on NFP, Funky Dung from Ales Rarus focuses on addresses given by Pope Pius XII inInvestigating NFP:Pius XII. The current emphasis on lay ministry concentrates on service provided inside the parish. Herb Ely, in his post called Dismissal Ratio – an Index of Parish Effectiveness estimates that for every person providing service to a parish there are 200

  3. From Ales Rarus - A Rare Bird, A Strange Duck, One Funky Blog » Investigating NFP: Preface on 19 Mar 2006 at 2:04 pm

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  4. From Ales Rarus - A Rare Bird, A Strange Duck, One Funky Blog » Investigating NFP: Supporting Families on 25 Mar 2006 at 11:42 am

    […] Investigating NFP: Supporting Families By Funky Dung Those who have been following my series on NFP, especially Pius’ speech about large families, may find this short article interesting. […]

  5. From Ales Rarus - A Rare Bird, A Strange Duck, One Funky Blog » Investigating NFP: The Joy of Sex on 29 Mar 2006 at 4:30 pm

    […] Investigating NFP: The Joy of Sex By Funky Dung A good friend of mine introduced me to a bit of writing by Alice von Hildrebrand, whom I’m never read. The book is called By Love Refined and it’s a series of letters she wrote to her goddaughter when she was a newlywed. I thought the portions my friend related to me very neatly explained something that Pius XII had only briefly touched upon in his address to midwives. […]

  6. From Ales Rarus - A Rare Bird, A Strange Duck, One Funky Blog » Fruitful multiplication and care of God’s creation on 21 Apr 2006 at 11:13 pm

    […] Fruitful multiplication and care of God’s creation By Edey Earier, Funky explored Pius XII's comments on family size. However, one thing that seems to come up frequently when discussing the idea of having large families is how to reconcile a large family with preserving the earth for future generations and caring for God's creation. As I have said in the past, I think the problem lies in the impact per person rather than the number of people. If total impact on the environment = (number of people) * (impact per person), then by reducing the impact per person significantly enough, the environment can sustain more people. As Earth day fast approaches, I found it a fitting time to suggest 10 simple ways that each of us can help decrease the impact per person:1. Eat less animal products. Now, I'm not insisting that everyone go hardcore vegan, but if you eat animal products twice a day, try once a day. If you eat them once a day, try once a week. 2. Eat more organic. All the pesticides and hormones that can go into food production have a negative impact on the environment, particularly in terms of water pollution.3. Carpool/take public transport/bike/walk more. 4. Recycle and buy things with post consumer content. 5. Bring your own bags when you shop.6. Buy in bulk and with as little packaging as possible.7. Buy locally grown food and produced products.8. Buy reusable items with as little processing as possible. 9. Open the windows instead of using the a/c.10. Next time you purchase a car, buy one as fuel efficient as possible.This list is not even close to exhaustive but a starting point. Please add your own in the comments section. Also, please talk these and other ideas up to as many people as possible so that it's not just us tree huggers talking. We tend to get tuned out. […]

  7. From Ales Rarus - A Rare Bird, A Strange Duck, One Funky Blog » Investigating NFP: Pius XI on 11 May 2006 at 12:54 pm

    […] Click here to read the next article in this series. […]

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