This book is essential reading for couples preparing for marriage, for married couples, for health care professionals and for all those interested in promoting the Culture of Life.
He also advances reasons why contraception is intrinsically immoral, following here to a great extent the teaching presented many times by Pope John Paul II that contraception violates conjugal love, that it is a “lie” because the conjugal act is meant to be an act of self-giving love but contraception makes it to be an act in which spouses refuse to give themselves unreservedly to each other, deliberately withholding their fertility and in fact repudiating their fertility, regarding it not as the blessing from God that it is but as an evil. Contraception is thus an anti-love kind of act.
I wish, however, that McCrystal had at least referred the truth that contraception is also an anti-life kind of act, as a long Christian tradition, stretching from the Fathers, through the great medieval schoolmen such as Thomas Aquinas, canon law from the 12th century until the 20th, the Roman Catechism or Catechism of the Council of Trent, Protestant Reformers such as Calvin, and many theologians today who are dedicated to defend magisterial teaching have shown. Here I provide a list of the more important sources where contraception is branded as an anti-life kind of act analogous to homicide.
St. John Chrysostom, Homily 24 on the Epistle to the Romans, PG 60.626-627: “Why do you sow where the field is eager to destroy the fruit? Where there are medicines of sterility? Where there is murder before birth? You do not even let a harlot remain only a harlot, but you make her a murderess as well. Do you see that from drunkenness comes fornication, from fornication adultery, from adultery murder? Indeed, it is something worse than murder and I do not know what to call it; for she does not kill what is formed but prevents its formation. What then? Do you contemn the gift of God, and fight with his law? What is a curse, do you seek as though it were a blessing? Do you make the anteroom of birth the anteroom of slaughter? Do you teach the woman who is given to you for the procreation of offspring to perpetuate killing?” Cited by John T. Noonan, Jr., in his Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by Catholic Theologians and Canonists (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1965), p. 98. On pp. 91-94 of this work Noonan shows that contraception, along with abortion, was considered equivalent to murder in such early Christian writings as The Didache and The Epistle to Barnabas. As Noonan shows in later sections of his work, e.g., pp. 146, 232-237, this tradition perdured in the Church for centuries.
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, Bk. 3, chap. 122: “Nor, in fact, should it be deemed a slight sin for a man to arrange for the emission of semen apart from the proper purpose of generating and bringing up children…the inordinate emission of semen is incompatible with the natural good of preserving the species. Hence, after the sin of homicide whereby a human nature already in existence is destroyed, this type of sin appears to take next place, for by it the generation of human nature is impeded.”
The “Si aliquis” canon, which was integrated into the canon law of the Church in the Decretum Greg. IX, lib. V, tit., 12, cap. V and was part of the Church’s canon law from the mid-thirteenth century until 1917, clearly likened contraception to murder. It declared: “If anyone for the sake of fulfilling sexual desire or with premeditated hatred does something to a man or a woman, or gives something to drink, so that he cannot generate or she cannot conceive or offspring be born, let him be held as a murderer.” Text in Corpus iuris canonici, ed. A. L. Richter and A. Friedberg (Leipzig: Tauchnitz, 1881), 2.794.
In its treatment of marriage, the Roman Catechism declared: “Whoever in marriage artificially prevents conception, or procures an abortion, commits a most serious sin: the sin of premeditated murder” (Part II, chap. 7, no. 13). It should be noted that Pope Paul VI explicitly refers to this text in a footnote to no. 14 of Humanae vitae (footnote no. 16), precisely where Paul defines contraception as every act prior to intercourse, during it, or in the course of its natural effect that proposes (the Latin text reads intendat), either as end or as means, to impede procreation (ut procreatio impediatur).
John Calvin, in his commentary on the sin of Onan in Genesis 38, had this to say: “Onan not only defrauded his brother of the right due him, but also preferred his semen to putrefy on the ground….The voluntary spilling of semen outside of intercourse between man and woman is a monstrous thing. Deliberately to withdraw from coitus in order that semen may fall on the ground is doubly monstrous. For this is to extinguish the hope of the race and to kill before is born the hoped-for offspring…If any woman ejects a foetus from her womb by drugs, it is reckoned a crime incapable of expiation, and deservedly Onan incurred upon himself the same kind of punishment, infecting the earth by his semen in order that Tamar might not conceive a future human being as an inhabitant of the earth.” Commentaries on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, ch. 38:9,10; quoted in Charles D. Provan, The Bible and Birth Control (Monongahela, PA: Zimmer Printing, 1989), p. 15. Provan points out that the editor of the unabridged series of Calvin’s Commentaries, published by Baker Book House, has omitted the commentary on these two verses of Genesis.
Contemporary authors who develop arguments to show that contraception is an anti-life kind of act
Germain Grisez, John Finnis, Joseph A. Boyle, Jr. and William E. May, "'Every Marital Act Ought to Be Open to New Life': Toward a Clearer Understanding," The Thomist 52.3 (1988) 365-426; published in Italian under the title, "'Ogni atto coniugale deve essere aperto a uno nuova vita': verso una comprensione più precisa," in Anthropotes: Rivista di Studi sulla Persona e la Famiglia 4.1 (May 1988) 73-122.
Carlo Caffarra (first president of the Istituto Giovanni Paolo II per studi su matrimonio e famiglia, Rome, and now Cardinal Archishop of Genoa), “Humanae Vitae: Vent’Anni Dopo,” in “Humanae Vitae”: 20’Anni Dopo (Atti del II Congresso Internazionale di Teologia Morale, Rome 9-12 Novembre, 1988), pp.183-195. By calling contraception an anti-life kind of act analogous to homicide Caffarra enraged Bernard Haering, C.Ss.R., who dissented from Humanae Vitae and who publicly accused Caffarra of insensitivity and cruel “physicalism” in his apologia pro vita sua, My Mission in the Church. In my review of that work I compared Haering’s swan song to Henry Higgins’ song, “Why can’t a woman be more like me?” Haering’s song was: “Why can’t the pope be more like me, sensitive, caring, pastoral, loving?”
Copyright © Patrick McCrystal 2009
Version: 2nd March 2011