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what are the blessings that God has attached to true matrimony, and how great they are

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what are the blessings that God has attached to true matrimony, and how great they are, there occur to Us the words of that illustrious Doctor of the Church whom We commemorated recently in Our Encyclical Ad salutem on the occasion of the fifteenth centenary of his death: “These,” says St. Augustine, “are all the blessings of matrimony on account of which matrimony itself is a blessing; offspring, conjugal faith and the sacrament.” And how under these three heads is contained a splendid summary of the whole doctrine of Christian marriage, the holy Doctor himself expressly declares when he said: “By conjugal faith it is provided that there should be no carnal intercourse outside the marriage bond with another man or woman; with regard to offspring, that children should be begotten of love, tenderly cared for and educated in a religious atmosphere; finally, in its sacramental aspect that the marriage bond should not be broken and that a husband or wife, if separated, should not be joined to another even for the sake of offspring. This we regard as the law of marriage by which the fruitfulness of nature is adorned and the evil of incontinence is restrained.”

Thus amongst the blessings of marriage, the child holds the first place. And indeed the Creator of the human race Himself, Who in His goodness wishes to use men as His helpers in the propagation of life, taught this when, instituting marriage in Paradise, He said to our first parents, and through them to all future spouses: “Increase and multiply, and fill the earth.” As St. Augustine admirably deduces from the words of the holy Apostle Saint Paul to Timothy when he says: “The Apostle himself is therefore a witness that marriage is for the sake of generation: ‘I wish,’ he says, ‘young girls to marry.’ And, as if someone said to him, ‘Why?,’ he immediately adds: ‘To bear children, to be mothers of families’.”

“How great a boon of God this is, and how great a blessing of matrimony is clear from a consideration of man’s dignity and of his sublime end. For man surpasses all other visible creatures by the superiority of his rational nature alone. Besides, God wishes men to be born not only that they should live and fill the earth, but much more that they may be worshippers of God, that they may know Him and love Him and finally enjoy Him for ever in heaven; and this end, since man is raised by God in a marvelous way to the supernatural order, surpasses all that eye hath seen, and ear heard, and all that hath entered into the heart of man. From which it is easily seen how great a gift of divine goodness and how remarkable a fruit of marriage are children born by the omnipotent power of God through the cooperation of those bound in wedlock.

“But Christian parents must also understand that they are destined not only to propagate and preserve the human race on earth, indeed not only to educate any kind of worshippers of the true God, but children who are to become members of the Church of Christ, to raise up fellow-citizens of the Saints, and members of God’s household, that the worshippers of God and Our Savior may daily increase.”

The 1917 Code of Canon Law also accurately describes the nature of the Sacrament of Marriage: “Marital consent is an act of the will whereby each party grants and accepts a permanent and exclusive right over the body regarding its acts which are of themselves apt for the generation of offspring.” (Codex Iuris Cononici, 1081.2) Thus, marriage is understood as a lawful contract in which the two parties handed over to each other the right to use one another for acts suitable for the generation of children. If two persons were to use the vocabulary of the Church’s canonical definition in their wedding vows, the bride and groom might say to each other, “I understand our marrying as an act in which I hand over to you the right to use my body for acts that are apt for generating children. I want to do this in a contractual context before these gathered witnesses.” Canon 1013 fittingly combined the teachings of both St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, teaching that: “The primary end of marriage is the procreation and education of children; its secondary end is mutual help and the remedying of concupiscence.” (Codex Iuris Cononici, 1013)

St. Augustine, On the Good of Marriage, Section 1, A.D. 401: “The first natural bond of human society is man and wife. Nor did God create these each by himself, and join them together as alien by birth: but He created the one out of the other, setting a sign also of the power of the union in the side, whence she was drawn, was formed. For they are joined one to another side by side, who walk together, and look together whither they walk. Then follows the connexion of fellowship in children, which is the one alone worthy fruit, not of the union of male and female, but of the sexual intercourse. For it were possible that there should exist in either sex, even without such intercourse, a certain friendly and true union of the one ruling, and the other obeying.”

Pope Gregory XVI in his encyclical Mirari Vos, which exposed liberalism and religious indifferentism explains that those marriages that are devoid of the “thought of the sacrament and of the mysteries signified by it [that is, the procreation and education of children, faithfulness, and mutual love and help]” or that was entered into because of concupiscence alone, will have an unhappy ending since these kinds of selfish, lustful and impious “marriages” in effect are nothing but fornication in disguise of a marriage, thus firmly contradicting and exposing the modernistic and heretical teachings of certain impious men and women who dared to assert that one could marry for mere selfish, lustful or worldly motives, rather than for pious and good motives that a true and honorable marriage always is based on.

Pope Gregory XVI, Mirari Vos (# 12), Aug. 15, 1832: “Now the honorable marriage of Christians, which Paul calls "a great sacrament in Christ and the Church,"[Heb. 13:4, Eph. 5:32] demands our shared concern lest anything contrary to its sanctity and indissolubility is proposed. Our predecessor Pius VIII would recommend to you his own letters on the subject. However, troublesome efforts against this sacrament still continue to be made. The people therefore must be zealously taught that a marriage rightly entered upon cannot be dissolved; for those joined in matrimony God has ordained a perpetual companionship for life and a knot of necessity which cannot be loosed except by death. Recalling that matrimony is a sacrament and therefore subject to the Church, let them consider and observe the laws of the Church concerning it. Let them take care lest for any reason they permit that which is an obstruction to the teachings of the canons and the decrees of the councils. They should be aware that those marriages will have an unhappy end which are entered upon contrary to the discipline of the Church or without God’s favor or because of concupiscence alone, with no thought of the sacrament and of the mysteries signified by it.”

In truth, Pope Gregory IX (1145-1241) also affirms the Church’s teaching on the sacrament of marriage, saying that: “As much as the contract of marriage is favored, it lacks effect if conditions are stipulated against the substance of marriage. For example, if one says to the other, “I contract with you if you will prevent the conception of children,” or, “until I find another woman more worthy in honor or riches,” or, “if you will sell yourself in adultery for money.”” (Gratian, Marriage Canons From The Decretum, Case Thirty-Two, Question IV, Conditions Set in Betrothals or Other Contracts)

Pope Gregory IX’s three examples here shows us the three goods of marriage: proles (offspring), sacramentum (indissolubility), and fides (fidelity) without which a marriage contract is invalid. “It seems evident that a woman taken merely to have sex is not a wife, because God instituted marriage for propagation, not merely for satisfying lust. For the nuptial blessing is [Gen. 1:28], “Increase and multiply.”… It is shameful for a woman when her marriage bears no fruit, for this alone is the reason for marrying. … bearing children is the fruit of marriage and the blessing of matrimony is without doubt the reason that [the Blessed Virgin] Mary’s virginity defeated the Prince of this World [the Devil]. Thus anyone who joins himself to another, not for the sake of procreating offspring, but rather to satisfy lust is less a spouse than a fornicator. … As no congregation of heretics can be called a Church of Christ because they do not have Christ as their head, so no matrimony, where one has not joined her husband according to Christ’s precept, can properly be called marriage, but is better called adultery.” (Gratian, Marriage Canons From The Decretum, Case Thirty-Two, Question II)

St. Augustine, Against Julian, A.D. 421: “Nevertheless, because human soundness agrees that the motive in taking a wife is the procreation of offspring, regardless of how weakness yields to lust, I note, in addition to the faithfulness which the married owe to each other so that there be no adultery, and the offspring, for whose generation the two sexes are to be united, that a third good, which seems to me to be a sacrament, should exist in the married, above all in those who belong to the people of God, so that there be no divorce from a wife who cannot bear, and that a man not wishing to beget more children give not his wife to another for begetting, as Cato is said to have done [Plutarch, In vita Catonis; Lucan 2]. … I say that there is another way in which marriage is good when offspring can be procreated only through intercourse. If there were another way to procreate, yet the spouses had intercourse, then they evidently must have yielded to lust, and made evil use of evil. But, since the two sexes were purposely instituted, man can be born only from their union, and thus spouses by their union for this purpose [of procreation] make good use of that evil [of lust]...” (Book V, Chapter 12, Section 46)

Thus, Pope St. Gregory the Great (c. 540-604), in his work “Pastoral Rule”, which deals with sexual sins from a biblical perspective, could rightly admonish Christians to never marry or perform the marital act for carnal or lustful motives: “The married must be admonished to bear in mind that they are united in wedlock for the purpose of procreation, and when they abandon themselves to immoderate intercourse, they transfer the occasion of procreation to the service of pleasure. Let them realize that though they do not then pass beyond the bonds of wedlock, yet in wedlock they exceed its rights. Wherefore, it is necessary that they efface by frequent prayer what they befoul in the fair form of conjugal union by the admixture of pleasure. For hence it is that the Apostle, skilled in heavenly medicine, did not so much lay down a course of life for the whole [of humanity] as point out remedies to the weak when he said, "It is good for a man not to touch a woman: but on account of fornication let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband" (1 Cor. 7:1-2). For in that he premised the fear of fornication, he surely did not give a precept to such as were standing [in the greater and more blessed life of chastity], but pointed out the bed to such as were falling, lest haply they should tumble to the ground. Whence to such as were still weak he added, "Let the husband render unto the wife her due; and likewise also the wife unto the husband" (1 Cor. 7:3). And, while in the most honorable estate of matrimony allowing to them something of pleasure, he added, "But this I say by way of indulgence, not by way of command" (1 Cor. 7:6). Now where indulgence is spoken of, a fault is implied; but one that is the more readily remitted in that it consists, not in doing what is unlawful, but in not keeping what is lawful under control.

“Which thing Lot expresses well in his own person, when he flies from burning Sodom, and yet, finding Zoar, does not still ascend the mountain heights. For to fly from burning Sodom is to avoid the unlawful fires of the flesh. But the height of the mountains is the purity of the continent. Or, at any rate, they are as it were upon the mountain, who, though cleaving to carnal intercourse, still, beyond the due association for the production of offspring, are not loosely lost in pleasure of the flesh. For to stand on the mountain is to seek nothing in the flesh except the fruit of procreation. To stand on the mountain is not to cleave to the flesh in a fleshly way. But, since there are many who relinquish indeed the sins of the flesh, and yet, when placed in the state of wedlock, do not observe solely the claims of due intercourse, Lot went indeed out of Sodom, but yet did not at once reach the mountain heights; because a damnable life is already relinquished, but still the loftiness of conjugal continence is not thoroughly attained... married life is neither far separated from the world, nor yet alien from the joy of safety... They are therefore to be admonished that, if they suffer from the storms of temptation with risk to their safety, they should seek the port of wedlock. For it is written, "It is better to marry than to burn" (1 Cor. 7:9). They come, in fact, to marriage without blame, if only they have not vowed better things [chastity].” (Pope St. Gregory the Great, Pastoral Rule, Book III, Chapter XXVII.--How The Married And The Single Are To Be Admonished.)

In A.D. 191 St. Clement of Alexandria (a Greek theologian of considerable influence in the early Church) referred to Onan’s evil act in these words: “He broke the law of coitus.” (St. Clement of Alexandria, Comments on Genesis 6, PG 69:309) He went on to explain that “Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted.” (St. Clement of Alexandria, Pedagogus, "The Educator",

St. Clement of Alexandria agrees with the Popes and Saints of the Church in this regard concerning the procreation and education of children, teaching us that: “it remains for us now to consider the restriction of sexual intercourse to those who are joined in wedlock. Begetting children is the goal of those who wed, and the fulfillment of that goal is a large family, just as hope of a crop drives the farmer to sow his seed, while the fulfillment of his hope is the actual harvesting of the crop. But he who sows in a living soil is far superior, for the one tills the land to provide food only for a season, the other to secure the preservation of the whole human race; the one tends his crop for himself, the other, for God. We have received the command: "Be fruitful" [Gen. 1:28], and we must obey. In this role man becomes like God, because he co-operates, in his human way, in the birth of another man.” (The Paedagogus or The Instructor, Book II, Chapter X) And so, it should be absolutely clear to all pure servants of Christ that “Marriage is the first conjunction of man and woman for the procreation of legitimate children. Accordingly Menander the comic poet says: "For the begetting of legitimate children, I give thee my daughter."” (St. Clement of Alexandria, "On Marriage", The Stromata or Miscellanies, Book II, Chapter XXIII)

Origen (a theologian of the early 3rd century Alexandrian Church) considered by many to be the most accomplished biblical scholar of the early church — refuted the teachings of the pagan philosopher Celsus by reference to God’s people in the Old Testament: “nor were there among them women who sold their beauty to anyone who wished to have sexual intercourse without offspring, and to cast contempt upon the nature of human generation.” (Origen, Contra Celsum, Book 5, Chapter 42) In the early Church it was clear that to have sexual intercourse without wishing to beget offspring was to commit an evil act.


Arguing against the Manicheans on contraception, St. Augustine appears to refer to a timing-based method as practiced by the Manicheans. His view on the matter is clear.

St. Augustine, On the Morals of the Manichaeans 18:65, A.D. 388: “Is it not you who used to counsel us to observe as much as possible the time when a woman, after her purification, is most likely to conceive, and to abstain from cohabitation at that time, lest the soul should be entangled in flesh? This proves that you [Manicheans] approve of having a wife, not for the procreation of children, but for the gratification of passion. In marriage, as the marriage law declares, the man and woman come together for the procreation of children. Therefore, whoever makes the procreation of children a greater sin than copulation, forbids marriage and makes the woman not a wife but a mistress, who for some gifts presented to her is joined to the man to gratify his passion. Where there is a wife there must be marriage. But there is no marriage where motherhood is not in view; therefore neither is there a wife.

Here, the exact Manichean method is unknown, though it sounds like a rhythm method similar to NFP. Manicheans disdained any procreation, which is the point of Augustine’s argument. He condemns marriage with permanent or temporary contraceptive intent.

St. Augustine, Against Faustus 15:7, A.D. 400: “… [the Manichean heretics] directly opposes the next precept, "Thou shalt not commit adultery"; for those who believe this doctrine, in order that their wives may not conceive, are led to commit adultery even in marriage. They take wives, as the law declares, for the procreation of children; but… their wives is not of a lawful character; and the production of children, which is the proper end of marriage, they seek to avoid. As the apostle long ago predicted of thee [the heretic Faustus], thou dost indeed forbid to marry, for thou seekest to destroy the purpose of marriage. Thy doctrine [against childbearing] turns marriage into an adulterous connection, and the bed-chamber into a brothel.”

Here we see that the true teaching of the Church and the Holy Saints condemns those who perform sexual acts where conception is hindered, calling their marriage “an adulterous connection” and their bed-chamber a “brothel”. In truth, “For what gratification is there (except perhaps for lascivious persons, and those who, as the apostle says with prohibition, possess their vessel in the lust of concupiscence [1 Thess. 4:5]) in the mere shedding of seed as the ultimate pleasure of sexual union, unless it is followed by the true and proper fruit of marriage—conception and birth?” (St. Augustine, On Marriage and Concupiscence, Book II, Chapter 19)

The Manicheans and the other gnostic heretics of the early Church that St. Augustine fought against and refuted was one of the greatest haters and rejecters of the goodness of procreation. The Fathers and Saints of the Church, however, fought fearlessly against them in debates and writings and condemned their impious doctrine which turns family life, society and her laws upside down, and that is why this unnatural doctrine was almost completely obliterated until our time—the last days—when this practice again was adopted by the worldly and sensual people of our time. St. Augustine, in his work Against Faustus, (A.D. 400) could rightly condemn these unnatural heretics for hating offspring, which is a true blessing of the Lord: “Moreover, the only honorable kind of marriage, or marriage entered into for its proper and legitimate purpose [that is, for the procreation of children], is precisely that you hate most [since procreation of children is regarded as one of the greatest of evils by the Manichean heretics]. So, though you may not forbid sexual intercourse, you forbid marriage; for the peculiarity of marriage is, that it is not merely for the gratification of passion, but, as is written in the contract, for the procreation of children.” (Against Faustus, Book XXIX, Section 6)

Confirming that only the normal, natural and procreative marital sexual act is allowed to be performed in a marriage, St. Thomas Aquinas, who quotes St. Augustine in his Summa Theologica, speaks about chastity, and he explains that the right, proper and pure use of the sexual organs is when one uses them for the sake of procreation, which of course refutes all those lustful perverts of our own day and age that defend non-procreative or unnecessary forms of sexual acts, such as foreplay and sensual kisses and touches, as well as all acts where the spouses deliberately try to hinder the procreation of children. Thus, in contrast to these lustful and impure spouses: “Augustine says (De Perseverantia xx): "We must give praise to purity, that he who has ears to hear, may put to none but a lawful use the organs intended for procreation." Now the use of these organs is the proper matter of chastity. Therefore purity belongs properly to chastity.” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Second Part of the Second Part, Q. 151, Art. 4.--Whether purity belongs especially to chastity?)

As we have seen from all the Fathers and Saints of the Catholic Church, contraceptive practices are nothing new. St. Hippolytus, in his book “Refutation of All Heresies,” (A.D. 225) describes how wicked people and so-called faithful committed this mortal sin even in the beginning of the third century: “… the so-called faithful want no children… [so] they use drugs of sterility or bind themselves tightly in order to expel a fetus which has already been engendered.” (Book IX, Chapter 12) Heretics and mortal sinners of this kind have always existed, “For they forbid chaste wedlock and procreation, but are seared in their consciences since they have sex and pollute themselves, and yet hinder procreation.” (St. Epiphanius, Panarion or Medicine Chest Against Heresies, Book I, Chapter 26:5:16:4.--Against the Gnostics, or Borborites, A.D. 375)

It should now be clear that marriage was created for chastity, procreation, and partnership. “Thou marriest a wife for chastity and procreation” (Chrysostom, Hom. XII. in Col.; PG 62.386; NPNF. p 318). Chrysostom explains that it was in response to Adam’s new fallen condition that the Lord God established marriage as we know it. The establishment of marriage was designed by God for a redemptive purpose: to tame man’s wild and out-of-control nature. “The profit of marriage is to preserve the body pure, and if this be not so, there is no advantage of marriage” (Chrysostom, Hom. LIX in Mt.; PG 58.583; NPNF, p. 371). This is contrary to the opinions of many modern scholars who labor in vain to “discover” modern and romantic notions in St. John Chrysostom’s theology of marriage.

St. Augustine, Adulterous Marriages, Book II, Chapter 12, A.D. 396: “It is that weakness, namely, incontinence, that the Apostle wished to remedy by the divinity of marriage. He did not say: If he does not have sons, let him marry, but: "If he does not have self-control, let him marry." Indeed, the concessions to incontinence in marriage are compensated for by the procreation of children. Incontinence surely is a vice, while marriage is not. So, through this good [procreation], that evil [concupiscence or sexual pleasure] is rendered pardonable. Since, therefore, the institution of marriage exists for the sake of generation, for this reason did our forebears [ancestors] enter into the union of wedlock and lawfully take to themselves their wives, only because of the duty to beget children. There then was a certain necessity for having children which does not exist now, because "the time to embrace," [Esdras 3:5] as it is written, was in those days, but now is "the time to refrain from embracing." Alluding to the present age, the Apostle says: "But this I say, brethren, the time is short; it remains that those who have wives be as if they had none." [1 Cor. 7:29] Whence, with perfect conviction, the following can be said: "Let him accept it who can," [Matt. 19:12] but "let her marry who cannot control herself." [1 Cor. 7:9] In former times, therefore, even continence was made subordinate to marriage for the sake of propagating children. Now, the marriage bond is a remedy for the vice of incontinence, so that children are begotten by those who do not practice continence, not with a disgraceful display of unbridled lust, but through the sanctioned act of lawfully wedded spouses. Then why did the Apostle not say: If he does not have sons let him marry? Evidently, because in this time of refraining from embrace it is not necessary to beget children. And why has he said: "If he cannot control himself, let him marry"? Surely, to prevent incontinence from constraining him to adultery. If, then, he practices continence, neither let him marry nor beget children. However, if he does not control himself, let him enter into lawful wedlock, so that he may not beget children in disgrace or avoid having offspring by a more degraded form of intercourse. There are some lawfully wedded couples who resort to this last, for intercourse, even with one’s lawfully wedded spouse, can take place in an unlawful and shameful manner, whenever the conception of offspring is avoided. Onan, the son of Juda, did this very thing, and the Lord slew him on that account. [Cf. Gen. 38:8-10] Therefore, the procreation of children is itself the primary, natural, legitimate purpose of marriage. Whence it follows that those who marry because of their inability to remain continent ought not to so temper their vice that they preclude the good of marriage, which is the procreation of children.

“The Apostle was certainly speaking of the incontinent where he said: "I desire, therefore, that younger widows marry, bear children, rule their households, and give the adversary no occasion for abusing us. For already some have turned aside after Satan." [1 Tim. 5:14,15] So, when he said: "I desire that the younger widows marry," [1 Cor. 7:29] he surely gave the advice to bolster their collapsing self-control. Then, lest thought be given only to this weakness of carnal desire, which would only be strengthened by the marital act, while the good of marriage would be either despised or overlooked, he immediately added: "to bear children, rule their households." [1 Tim. 5:14] In fact, those who choose to remain continent certainly choose something better than the good of marriage, which is the procreation of children. Whence, if the choice is continence, so that something better than the good of marriage is embraced, how much more closely is it to be guarded so that adultery may be avoided! For, when the Apostle said: "But if they do not have self-control, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to burn," [1 Cor. 7:9] he did not say that it is better to commit adultery than to burn.”




One of the earliest extant documents of formal Church legislation (that we know of) on the use of contraceptives comes in the sixth century. Its originator in canonical form was St. Martin, Archbishop of Braga in Spain (520-580). Drawing on previous episcopal synods of the East and West, he simplified the existing laws and codified them for the people of Portugal and Spain.

Martin’s condemnation of contraception and the contraceptive intent first occurred in the famous collection Capitula Martini. It was later incorporated in the laws of the Second Council of Braga (June, 572), at which he presided as the head of twelve bishops.

His reference to earlier more severe penalties implies that ecclesiastical authority had condemned the practice long before the sixth century.

St. Martin, Archbishop of Braga, Second Council of Braga, Canon 77, June, 572: “If any woman has fornicated and has killed the infant who was born of her; or if she has tried to commit abortion and then slain what she conceived; or if she contrives to make sure she does not conceive, either in adultery or in legitimate intercourse—regarding such women the earlier canons decreed that they should not receive communion even at death. However, we mercifully judge that both such women and their accomplices in these crimes shall do penance for ten years.” (Mansi IX, 858)

In truth, “she (the wife) is the only one with whom it is lawful to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh for the purpose of begetting lawful heirs. This is to share in God’s own work of procreation, and in such a work the seed ought not to be wasted nor scattered thoughtlessly nor sown in a way it cannot grow.” (St. Clement of Alexandria, The Paedagogus or The Instructor, Book II, Chapter X.--On the Procreation and Education of Children, A.D. 198)



The First Council of Nicaea (which is the first Ecumenical Council in Church history) rejected already in the Fourth Century priests who had consented to the act of castrating themselves. This teaching is very relevant for our time since many people nowadays perform operations or undergo different procedures castrating themselves.

The First Council of Nicaea, Canon 1, A.D. 325: “[I]f anyone in sound health has castrated himself, it behooves that such a one, if enrolled among the clergy, should cease [from his ministry], and that from henceforth no such person should be promoted. But, as it is evident that this is said of those who willfully do the thing and presume to castrate themselves, so if any have been made eunuchs by barbarians, or by their masters, and should otherwise be found worthy, such men this canon admits to the clergy.”


St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), who is considered as one of the most important doctors of the Church, is abundantly clear on that any completed sex act without the proper goal of procreation is sinful.

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Section 1.3.122: “Hence it is clear that every emission of the semen is contrary to the good of man, which takes place in a way whereby generation is impossible; and if this is done on purpose, it must be a sin.” He concludes: “… the inordinate emission of the semen is repugnant to the good of nature, which is the conservation of the species. Hence, after the sin of murder, whereby a human nature already in actual existence is destroyed, this sort of sin seem to hold the second place, whereby the generation of human nature is precluded. The above assertions are confirmed by divine authority. The unlawfulness of any emission of semen, upon which offspring cannot be consequent, is evident from such texts as these: Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind: Thou shalt not lie with any beast (Levit. xviii, 22, 23): Nor the effeminate, nor sodomites, shall possess the kingdom of God (1 Cor. Vi, 10).”

Thus, it is clear that St. Thomas teaches that: “Matrimony was instituted for the begetting of children.” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Supp., Q. 42, Art. 2) “Therefore, since in matrimony man receives by Divine institution the faculty to use his wife for the begetting of children, he also receives the grace without which he cannot becomingly do so.” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Supp., Q. 42, Art. 3)



We also find some references in the 16th century Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent, designed for parish priests. In the section on the Sacrament of Matrimony, the section on the use of marriage teaches spouses to abstain from the marriage debt before they will receive the Body of Our Lord in the Most Holy Eucharist. For instance, there is to be no marital sexual relations before Communion since, “The dignity of so great a Sacrament also demands that married persons abstain from the marriage debt for some days previous to Communion. This observance is recommended by the example of David, who, when about to receive the showbread from the hands of the priest, declared that he and his servants had been clean from women for three days.” (The Catechism of the Council of Trent, Preparation Of Body) Married as well as unmarried are also taught to “approach the Holy Table fasting, having neither eaten nor drunk anything at least from the preceding midnight until the moment of Communion.” (The Catechism of the Council of Trent, Preparation Of Body) The unitive and natural aspect is mentioned, under the Motives and Ends of Marriage: “First of all, nature itself by an instinct implanted in both sexes impels them to such companionship.” Desire of family and avoiding lust is also mentioned. Though there is a reminder that “marriage is not to be used for purposes of lust or sensuality, but that its use is to be restrained within those limits which, as we have already shown, have been fixed by the Lord” and “therefore married persons who, to prevent conception… are guilty of a most heinous crime—nothing less than wicked conspiracy to commit murder.” (The Catechism of the Council of Trent, The Motives And Ends Of Marriage) Wikipedia also makes the interesting claim that “[all] Canon law until 1917 labeled contraception as murder.”

The Catechism of the Council of Trent: “The faithful are moreover to be taught, that there are three advantages of marriage — offspring, faith, the sacrament — which alleviate, by compensating for, those disadvantages which the Apostle points out in these words: "Such [that is, married people who perform the sexual act] shall have tribulation of the flesh " (1 Corinthians 7:28); and by which sexual intercourse, which, without marriage, would be deservedly reprobated, becomes an honourable union. The first advantage, then, is offspring, that is, children begotten from a true and lawful wife; an advantage so highly appreciated by the Apostle, that he says: "The woman shall be saved by bearing children" (1 Timothy 2:15). This, however, is not to be understood solely of the procreation of children, but also of the education and discipline by which children are reared to piety. Thus the Apostle immediately subjoins: "If she continue in faith;" for the Scripture admonishes: "Hast thou children? Instruct them, and bow down their neck from their childhood" (Ecclestiasticus 7:25). The Apostle teaches the same; and of such an education the Scripture affords the most beautiful examples in the persons of Tobias, Job, and other Patriarchs eminent for holiness. But what are the duties of parents and children shall be more fully explained in the exposition of the fourth commandment.

“… Matrimonial faith also demands, that husband and wife be united by a certain singular, and holy, and pure love, a love not such as that of adulterers, but such as that which Christ cherishes towards his Church; for this is the model which the Apostle proposed, when he said: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church" (Ephesians 5:25); and very great indeed was the love with which Christ embraced his Church, not a selfish love, but a love that proposed to itself the sole interest of his spouse...” (Catechism of Trent – What Are The Advantages Accruing To Married Persons From This Sacrament)


In the late sixteenth century, Pope Sixtus V (1521-1590) passed a series of laws to curb the immorality of his day. Among these laws was one that simultaneously covered abortion and contraception.

There is nothing new about the legislation, except the added solemnity of its being passed by direct order of the pope. Abortion and contraception are equally called crimes.

Pope Sixtus V, Bull Effranatum, Oct. 27, 1588: “Who does not abhor the lustful cruelty or cruel lust of impious men, a lust which goes so far that they procure poisons to extinguish and destroy the conceived fetus within the womb, even attempting by a wicked crime to destroy their own offspring before it lives, or, if it lives, to kill it before it is born?”

Pope Sixtus V: “Who, finally, would not condemn with the most severe punishments the crimes of those who by poisons, potions and evil drugs induce sterility in women, so that they might not conceive or, by means of evil-working medication, that they might not give birth?” (Quoted in Bullarium Romanum, Vol. 1)


By the early years of the twentieth century the Catholic Church had developed a standard confessional practice regarding the sin of contraception. Catholics who chose to have intercourse while taking steps to avoid the primary purpose of marital intercourse were refused absolution (forgiveness) in the sacrament of Penance or Confession, and were thus considered damned in the eyes of the Church and of God. Considered “habitual sinners,” those who “practiced birth control” were also barred from the reception of the sacrament of the Eucharist (Holy Communion). Addressing their priests in 1909, the Belgian bishops condemned the “most evil sin of Onan” in every form of birth control. The bishops then instructed priests to teach the laity to avoid a materialistic understanding of life. Priests were to remind husbands that “those who have wives should use them as if they had them not.” (1 Cor. 7:29–30) Some married couples attempted to justify limiting their offspring on the grounds that they would have more children than they could feed. Citing the words of Jesus that we should not be anxious about what we would eat or how we would be clothed (Matt. 6:31), the Belgian bishops asked husbands and wives to put their faith in divine Providence. It could be the case that some husbands would fear that further pregnancies would endanger the health of their wives. In such cases, priests were instructed to point out the advantages of modern medical care. However, if another pregnancy was truly a serious danger to the wife’s health or life, the husband and wife, by mutual consent, should courageously abstain from the marital act. (Instruction des Evêques de Belgique sur l’onanisme,” the Bishops of Belin in Nouvelle-Revue Theologique 41 (1909), 617)

In their 1913 pastoral letter the German bishops declared: “It is serious sin to will to prevent the increase of the number of children, so that marriage is abused for pleasure alone and its principal purpose knowingly and willingly frustrated.” (See Joseph Laurentius, S.J., “Das Bischofswort zum Schutze der Familie,” in Theologisch Praktische Quartalschrift 67 (1914), 517–28)

The French bishops joined the crusade against birth control in May of 1919. Reminding the married that “the principal end of marriage is the procreation of children,” the bishops of France declared: “It is to sin seriously against nature and against the will of God to frustrate marriage of its end by an egotistic or sensual calculation.” All practices that led to the restriction of births were seen to be “as disastrous as they are criminal.” (Documentation Catholique 1 (1919), 578–79)

In September 1919, the American bishops met in Washington, D.C., and produced their first joint pastoral letter since 1884. Referring to The Catechism of the Council of Trent, the bishops stated that procreation was the first and most serious obligation of marriage. Using the traditional Catholic teaching of the biblical account of Onan’s sin, the bishops condemned all forms of birth regulation because “the selfishness which leads to race suicide . . . is, in God’s sight, a ‘detestable thing.’” According to the American bishops, the increase of children brought about such good effects as a “fresh stimulus given to thrift” brought about by the virtuous necessity of stretching the family income as well as the “industrious effort” of mother and father who had to work harder. Indeed, more children necessitates making more “sacrifices,” but sacrifices are “sources of blessing.” (National Council of Catholic Bishops, The National Pastorals of the American Hierarchy, 1792–1919, 313)


Pope Gregory IX (1148-1241), who was a personal friend of St. Francis of Assisi, ordered St. Raymond of Penafort to collect all the papal decrees published until that time and edit them in systematic form. The Decretals of Gregory IX as they are called was published in 1234 by order of the Pope, and were a summary of the Church’s legislation in the lifetime of St. Thomas Aquinas. Like the Summa Theologica they synthesize the Church’s whole past tradition. Two things are noteworthy about the decree quoted: 1) it summarily and simply identifies as contraception whatever is taken to prevent generation or conception or birth; 2) it distinguishes between taking a drug out of lust (instead of abstaining from intercourse) and giving a drug from hostile motives; and 3) it calls all of these actions homicidal, in the technical sense of destroying life at any state of the vital process.

The Decretals of Gregory IX, Book V, A.D. 1234: “If anyone, to satisfy his lust or in meditated hatred, does something to a man or woman or gives them something to drink so that he cannot generate or she conceive, or the offspring be born—let him be held a homicide.”

A significant principle was also enunciated under Pope Gregory IX on the validity of marriage. Already in the thirteenth century, a marriage was null and void if the couple had agreed (or even if one partner insisted) to marry but avoid having children. It was presumed they would have intercourse, but contraceptively. “If conditions are set against the substance of marriage—for example, if one says to the other, “I contract with you if you avoid offspring”—the matrimonial contract, as much as it is favored, lacks effect.” (The Decretals of Gregory IX, Book IV)



During the pontificate of Pius IX (1792-1878), at least five decisions were made by the Holy See with regard to contraception in one or another form. The following was made by the Holy Office and approved by the Pope. It touches on one type of contraception, but in doing so clarifies two important elements: that Onanism is against the Natural Law, and that confessors have a duty to inquire about this practice if they have a good reason to suppose that it is being done.

The question is asked what theological note the following three heretical propositions deserve:

    1. It is permissible for spouses to use marriage the way Onan did, if their motives are worthy.

    2. It is probable that such use of marriage is not forbidden by the natural law.

    3. It is never proper to ask married people of either sex about this matter, even though it is prudently feared that the spouses, whether the wife or the husband abuse matrimony.

The officials of the Holy Office ordered the following to be stated:

    1. The first proposition is scandalous, erroneous, and contrary to the natural right of matrimony.

    2. The second proposition is scandalous, erroneous, and elsewhere implicitly condemned by Innocent XI: “Voluptuousness is not prohibited by the law of nature. Therefore if God had not forbidden it, it would be good, and sometimes obligatory under pain of mortal sin” [Condemned Statement by Innocent XI] (March 4, 1679).

    3. The third proposition, as it stands, is false, very lax, and dangerous in practice (Decisiones S. Sedis de Usu et Abusu Matrimonii, Rome, 1944, pp. 19-20; May 21, 1851).


From the very beginning of the Catholic Church, anyone who dared to commit the act of birth-control while they chose to perform the marital act had to do penance for a long time since this was considered such an evil act.

Around the year 1000, The Decretals of Burchard was compiled by Burchard, (965-1025) Bishop of Worms in Germany. This collection of canon law called the Decreta exercised great influence for centuries in the history of the Church. Several features of the following legislation are significant. The penalty is less severe than it had been, i.e., ten years of penance instead of pardon only at death; abortion and contraception are equally reprehended; and a distinction is made in the culpability (always grave) of a woman who aborts or interferes with conception because she is poor, and a woman who does the same to avoid the humiliation of having a child out of wedlock:

“Have you done what some women are accustomed to doing when they fornicate and wish to kill their offspring; they act with their poisons (maleficia) and their herbs to kill or cut out the embryo, or, if they have not yet conceived they contrive not to conceive? If you have done so, or consented to this, or taught it, you must do penance for ten years on legal ferial days. Legislation in former days excommunicated such persons from the Church till the end of their lives. As often as a woman prevented conception, she was guilty of that many homicides. It makes a great deal of difference, however, whether the woman in question is a pauper who acted the way she did for lack of means to nourish (her offspring) or whether she did so to conceal the crime of her fornication.” (The Decretals of Burchard, Decreta, num. 19; PL 140, 972)

The evilness of all forms of birth-control cannot be understated, and that is also why the Church from the beginning severely punished all Her children who committed this crime. It is an act that is similar to playing God, an outright mockery of God and His creation and a perversion of nature. Just as we ourselves wish to continue to live, so we have no right to hinder another soul from also living. Thus, “He who does this [that is, he who drinks a contraceptive potion] in order not to have children shall do penance for twelve years. (Poenitentiale Vigilanum, num. 79-80 (A.D. 850); PL 129, 1123ff.)


The Fathers as well as the tradition of the early Church are so unanimous in interpreting the Bible as condemning as sinful and forbidden the evil use of birth control that it is unbelievable how some people calling themselves “Christian” or “Catholic” can deny that it is sinful, evil or condemned, and especially so, since The Councils of Trent and Vatican I infallibly teaches that the Fathers must be obeyed when their teachings unanimously agree with one another. In this context, Saint Jerome condemns all those who see nothing wrong about fornication, or contraception or even abortion. St. Jerome’s letter to Eustochium contains a typical patristic condemnation of contraception. It is associated with the defection from the Church of those women who find the Church’s position on chastity too demanding.

First he cites those who have intercourse out of wedlock, but make sure they do not become pregnant by taking appropriate drugs to prevent conception. Others become pregnant and then commit abortion to avoid exposure of their guilt.

Most pertinent is Jerome’s quoting such women as saying they see nothing particularly wrong about fornication, or contraception or even abortion. Their conscience approves of what they are doing; so how can these be sins?

The final reference to food and drink points out the fact that these women are critical of those who practice mortification. Consistent with their attitude on sex, they argue that all of this is God’s gift—so why not use it?

St. Jerome, Letter 22:13, To Eustochium, A.D. 384: “It becomes wearisome to tell how many virgins fall daily; what important personages Mother Church loses from her bosom; over how many stars the proud enemy sets up his throne [Isaiah 14:13]; how many rocks the serpent makes hollow and then enters through their openings. You may see many who were widowed before they were wed, shielding a guilty conscience by a lying garb. Did not a swelling womb or the crying of their infant children betray them, they would go about with head erect and on skipping feet. But others drink potions to ensure sterility and are guilty of murdering a human being not yet conceived. Some when they learn they are with child through sin, practice abortion by the use of drugs. Frequently they die themselves and are brought before the rulers of the lower world guilty of three crimes: suicide, adultery against Christ, and murder of an unborn child. These are the women who are accustomed to say: “‘Unto the pure all things are pure.’ [Titus 1:15] The approval of my conscience is enough for me. A pure heart is what God desires. Why should I abstain from foods which God created to be used with thanksgiving?” [1 Timothy 4:3] And whenever they wish to appear bright and festive, and have drowned themselves in wine, they say—adding sacrilege to drunkenness: “God forbid that I should abstain from the blood of Christ.” And whenever they see a woman pale and sad, they call her a poor wretch, a nun, and a Manichean: and with reason, for according to their belief fasting is heresy.”

Another good quotation from St. Caesarius of Arles condemns all spouses that are against procreation and that practice abortion and says that “the only sterility of a very pious wife is chastity”. The second passage from Caesarius deals with abortion, but of a contraceptive kind. Some women took medication to destroy unborn life already conceived in the womb. Others took drugs by anticipation; they would not mind becoming pregnant, but provided that the child would not reach viability.

St. Caesarius of Arles, Sermon 52:4: “Does not the Devil clearly exercise his deceits still further, dearly beloved, when he persuades some women, after they have had two or three children, to kill either any more or those already born, by taking an abortion draught? Apparently, such women fear that if they have more children they cannot become rich. For, what else must they think when they do this, except that God will not be able to feed or direct those whom He has commanded to be born? Perhaps some are killed who could serve God better or obey those same parents with a perfect love. Instead, by an impious, murderous practice women take poisonous draughts to transmit incomplete life and premature death to their children through their generative organs. By such an exigency they drink a cup of bereavement with the cruel drug. O sad persuasion! They maintain that the poison which has been transmitted through their drinking is unconnected with them. Moreover, they do not realize that they conceive in sterility the child which they receive in death, because it was conceived in their flesh. However, if there is not yet found a tiny infant that could be killed within the womb of its mother, it is no less true that even the natural power (of generation) within the woman is destroyed. Why unhappy mother—or, rather, not even the step-mother of a new-born son—why did you seek, from outside, remedies that would be harmful for eternity? You possess within you more salutary remedies, if you wish. You do not want to have a child? Settle a pious agreement with your husband; let him agree to an end of childbearing in accord with the virtue of chastity. The only the sterility of a very pious wife is chastity.”

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