"Only the divine and eternal light of Christianity gives full life and meaning to the family and this is so true that right from the beginning and through the whole course of its history, large families have often been considered as synonymous with Christian families."
"Respect for divine laws has made them abound with life; faith in God gives parents the strength and vigor they need to face the sacrifice and self-denial demanded for the raising of their children; Christian principles guide them and help them in the hard work of education; the Christian spirit of love watches over their peace and good order, and seems to draw forth from nature and bestow the deepest family joys that belong to parents, to children, to brothers and sisters."
"Even externally, a large, well-ordered family is a kind of visible shrine: the sacrament of Baptism is not an exceptional event for them but something constantly renewing the joy and grace of the Lord. The series of happy pilgrimages to the Baptismal font is not yet finished when a new one to Confirmation and first Communion begins, aglow with the same innocence. The youngest of the children will scarcely have put away his little white suit among the dearest memories of life, when the first wedding veil appears to bring parents, children, and new relatives together at the foot of the altar. More marriages, more Baptisms, more first Communions follow each other like ever-new springtimes that, in a sense, make the visits of God and of His grace to the home unending."
Having more kids leads to experiencing more sacramental grace. 🙂
"But God also visits large families with His Providence, and parents, especially those who are poor, give clear testimony to this by resting all their trust in Him when human efforts are not enough. A trust that has a solid foundation and is not in vain! Providence – to put it in human words and ideas – is not a sum total of exceptional acts of divine pity; it is the ordinary result of harmonious activity on the part of the infinite wisdom, goodness and omnipotence of the Creator. God will never refuse a means of living to those He calls into being."
"The Divine Master has explicitly taught that 'life is worth more than food, and the body more than clothing' (cf. Matt. 6, 25). If single incidents, whether small or great, seem to contradict this, it is a sign that man has placed some obstacle in the way of divine order, or else, in exceptional cases, that God has higher plans for good; but Providence is something real, something necessary since God is the Creator."
I think here His Holiness would differentiate between being poor and being destitute. Having an income in the lowest tax bracket is not ipso facto sufficient serious motive for putting off conception of a/another child. Also, there's a difference between being poor in a rural area and having the resources to raise and preserve food readily and being poor in an urban area and not only lacking those resources, but also facing a high degree of crime and filth.
"The so-called problem of overpopulation of the earth is partly real and partly unreasonably feared as an imminent catastrophe for modern society; but undoubtedly the rise of this problem and the continued failure to arrive at a solution of it is not due to some mixup or inertia on the part of divine Providence, but rather to disorder on man's part – especially to his selfishness and avarice."
If a freely fecund population endangers health and happiness, and that is not a proven matter, it wouldn't be God's fault. If we'd just live more simply and share more, a population boom wouldn't tax our planet's resources. Of course, since the Earth is finite, resourses are also finite. Pius addresses this point, though.
"With the progress that has been made in technology, with the ease of transportation, and with the new sources of energy that are just beginning to be tapped, the earth can promise prosperity to all those who will dwell on it for a long time to come."
"As for the future, who can foresee what new and unsuspected resources may be found on our planet, and what surprises may be uncovered outside of it by the wonderful scientific achievements that have just barely begun? And who can be sure that the natural rhythm of procreation will be the same in the future as it is now? Is it not possible that some law that will moderate the rhythm of expansion from within may come into play? Providence has reserved the future destiny of the world to itself."
"It is strange to find that the fears of some individuals are able to change well-founded hopes for prosperity into catastrophic spectre at the very moment when science is changing what used to be considered the dreams of wild imaginations into useful realities."
Science is a panacea, except when it's not. People sing the praises of science when it suits them, and that's usually when science seems to disagree with the Church. Science has indeed brought man some wonderful advances. Who's to say that in God' Providence science will not aleviate our fears of running out of resourses?
"So overpopulation is not a valid reason for spreading illicit birth control practices. It is simply a pretext used by those who would justify avarice and selfishness – by those nations, for instance, who fear that the expansion of others will pose a danger to their own political position and cause a lowering of the general standard of living, or by individuals, especially those who are better off, who prefer the greatest possible enjoyment of earthly goods to the praise and merit of bringing new lives into existence. The final result is that they break the fixed and certain laws of the Creator under the pretext of correcting supposed errors on the part of His Providence."
I don't think this is an entirely fair description of those who monger fear about overpopulation. Many are harmless hippy types that sincerely see humanity as a danger to Mother Earth. I certainly don't think they'd qualify as seeking "justify avarice and selfishness". The worst minority among them, though, see humanity as a disease plaguing Earth. We cannot simply dismiss what they say, though. They are partly right. Every good lie has some truth in it. In this case, the truth is that, as Pius mentions, avaricious, selfish individuals and nations see population as a threat to their comfort and luxury. Still, much of this is moot given that the expected population boom never happened. In fact, thanks to a rampant contraceptive mentality, many nations fail to reproduce enough for replacement of dying citizens. If it weren't for immigration, many countries, including the U.S. and several western European nations, would have shrinking populations. In Europe, this is particularly problematic as Muslims immigrate and multiply as Christians once did, overtaking the native population. The dangers of this situation were well demonstrated by the recent riots in France. But I digress.
"It would be more reasonable and useful if modern society would make a more determined, universal effort to correct its own conduct, by removing the causes of hunger in the overpopulated or 'depressed areas,' through a more active use of modern discoveries for peaceful aims, a more open political policy of collaboration and exchange, a more far-seeing and less nationalistic economy; above all, by reacting to all suggestions of selfishness with charity, to those of avarice with a more concrete application of justice."
"God is not going to ask men for an accounting of the general destiny of mankind; that is His business; but He will demand an accounting of the single acts that they have deliberately performed in accordance with or against the dictates of conscience."
This is essentially a paraphrase of the Sermon on the Mount and the parable of the sheep and the goats.
"And now a few words on your third testimony – words that may give new strength to those who are fearful and bring you a little comfort."
"Large families are the most splendid flower-beds in the garden of the Church; happiness flowers in them and sanctity ripens in favorable soil. Every family group, even the smallest, was meant by God to be an oasis of spiritual peace. But there is a tremendous difference: where the number of children is not much more than one, that serene intimacy that gives value to life has a touch of melancholy or of pallor about it; it does not last as long, it may be more uncertain, it is often clouded by secret fears and remorse."
"It is very different from the serenity of spirit to be found in parents who are surrounded by a rich abundance of young lives. The joy that comes from the plentiful blessings of God breaks out in a thousand different ways and there is no fear that it will end. The brows of these fathers and mothers may be burdened with cares, but there is never a trace of that inner shadow that betrays anxiety of conscience or fear of an irreparable return to loneliness, Their youth never seems to fade away, as long as the sweet fragrance of a crib remains in the home, as long as the walls of the house echo to the silvery voices of children and grandchildren."
"Their heavy labors multiplied many times over, their redoubled sacrifices and their renunciation of costly amusements are generously rewarded even here below by the inexhaustible treasury of affection and tender hopes that dwell in their hearts without ever tiring them or bothering them."
"And the hopes soon become a reality when the eldest daughter begins to help her mother to take care of the baby and on the day the oldest son comes home with his face beaming with the first salary he has earned himself. That day will be a particularly happy one for parents, for it will make the spectre of an old age spent in misery disappear, and they will feel assured of a reward for their sacrifices."
"When there are many children, the youngsters are spared the boredom of loneliness and the discomfort of having to live in the midst of adults all the time. It is true that they may sometimes become so lively as to get on your nerves, and their disagreements may seem like small riots; but even their arguments play an effective role in the formation of character, as long as they are brief and superficial. Children in large families learn almost automatically to be careful of what they do and to assume responsibility for it, to have a respect for each other and help each other, to be open-hearted and generous. For them, the family is a little proving ground, before they move into the world outside, which will be harder on them and more demanding."
Pius' observations are very much in agreement with what I have heard from children of large families. They tell me that there was always an abundance of love to go around. Having more children to love and care for did not spread their parents thin. Rather, it expanded their capacity to love. Being one of only two children in my family and not having many cousins, I wouldn't know this experience. Having seen and experienced the difficulties of often not getting along well with a sibling in a small family, having no other siblings with whom to communicate and commiserate, I do not wish to expose my future children to the same.
"All of these precious benefits will be more solid and permanent, more intense and more fruitful if the large family takes the supernatural spirit of the Gospel, which spiritualizes everything and makes it eternal, as its own particular guiding rule and basis. Experience shows that in these cases, God often goes beyond the ordinary gifts of Providence, such as joy and peace, to bestow on it a special call – a vocation to the priesthood, to the religious life, to the highest sanctity."
"With good reason, it has often been pointed out that large families have been in the forefront as the cradles of saints. We might cite, among others, the family of St. Louis, the King of France, made up of ten children, that of St. Catherine of Siena who came from a family of twenty-five, St. Robert Bellarmine from a family of twelve, and St. Pius X from a family of ten."
"Every vocation is a secret of Providence; but these cases prove that a large number of children does not prevent parents from giving them an outstanding and perfect upbringing; and they show that the number does not work out to the disadvantage of their quality, with regard to either physical or spiritual values."
I am in great agreement with Pius on this matter. I have long thought that people with larger families are more willing to "sacrifice" one or more to the religious life. I think this has more to do with psychology and/or sociology than Divine Providence, but the result is the same. The desire for grandchildren is a very strong one. A parent with only a few children is unlikely to encourage any to enter the religious life for fear of not having grandchildren. That is not to say that they always, or even often, deliberately dissuade their children from becoming priests, nuns, etc., but that they make no point of raising their children to see that vocation as equal in worth and dignity as marriage.
"Be careful to imprint the seal of an ever more vigilant and fruitful dynamism on the action that you intend to carry out in behalf of the dignity of large families and for their economic protection."
"With regard to the first of these aims, keep in line with the directives of the Church; with regard to the second, you have to shake out of its lethargy that part of society that is not yet aware of its social responsibilities. Providence is a divine truth and reality, but it chooses to make use of human cooperators. Ordinarily it moves into action and comes to our aid when it has been summoned and practically led by the hand by man; it loves to lie hidden behind human activity. While it is only right to acknowledge that Italian legislation can legitimately boast of being most advanced in this area of affording protection to families and especially to large families, We should not close our eyes to the fact that there are still a considerable number of them who are tossed back and forth between discomfort and real privation, through no fault of their own. Your action must aim at bringing these people the protection of the laws, and in more urgent cases the help of charity. Every positive achievement in this field is like a solid stone set into the structure of the nation and of the church; it is the very best thing you can do as Catholics and as citizens."
"[T]here are still a considerable number of [families] who are tossed back and forth between discomfort and real privation, through no fault of their own." If there are couples who are worried about the prudence of conceiving a/another child, their society is largely to blame. As I've said previously,Christians, particularly those with governing power, should do everything in their power to remove causes of distress for families.
That concludes the majority of what Pius XII had to say about the regulation of births. While he did not elaborate on the nature of "serious" and "grave" reasons, he did tell us that the procreative aspect of marriage is greater and must take priority over the unitive aspect, large families are ideal, and to deliberately choose to have a small family (because of mere personal preference) is selfish. So those are at least two reasons (the desire of pleasure over fecundity or for a small family) that are not sufficiently serious or grave to licitly avoid conception. Also, fear of overpopulation, given current conditions, is not an acceptible reason. On the other hand, couples cannot be entirely blamed for fearing the burden of large families when their governments do little to support and encourage them. He does not elaborate on when such fears are justified or not. All in all, given Pius XII's praise for large families and his warnings about avoiding selfishness, I think I can safely state that he would have expected the birth-spacing aspects of NFP to be used sparingly and with great regret.
Click here to read the next post in this series.