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Prolife Forum: Definitions needed for "open" and "natural"

by Catherine Frakas 19 Jun 2002

Definitions needed for open and natural QUESTION from Dave April 7, 2001 I was intrigued by John's answer to Patrick regarding NFP. I don't see how a couple can be totally open to the possibility of pregnancy while purposively and simultaneously seeking to reduce the odds of conception to that of a condom.
Apparently there are times when the Church thinks it is appropriate for a married couple to seek non-reproductive (i.e. recreational) sexual relations. Afterall, any honest person knows that sex is ordered not just to procreation, but to strenghening an emotional bond.
How is the contruction of a condom any less natural than NFP, a knowledge and system resulting from years of experiment and dissection? How is the construction of a condom any more artificial than prospective Catholic couples hopping in their cars and going to NFP classes where they learn how to avoid pregnancy?
What are the definitions of open and natural such that Natural Family Planning, used to avoid pregancy, is morally different than the use of a condom?
How can the Church be so firm on NFP versus condoms, and yet so blatantly weak (or even silent)when it comes to developing guidelines spelling out the conditions when the use of NFP to avoid pregnancy is acceptable?
Finally, if a Catholic couple unrepentingly uses condoms on the same days where NFP would indicate that non-reproductive sex is to be had (presumably just to reduce the odds of conception a little further), and the reasons for not wanting to get pregnant are satisfactory to the Church, then what is the objection? If it is a sin, when why, and how grave of one?
If this forum could just clearly and completely define it's terms of open and natural, perhaps it wouldn't have to entertain the same NFP vs. Condom question every month.
ANSWER by Mr. Troy Martz on May 10, 2001 Dear Dave:
Thank you for your question. I would like to take the opportunity discuss some important points of the Church’s teaching regarding contraception that will answer the larger questions of the Unitive vs. Procreative aspects of the conjugal act.
First, some corrections: The Church does not consider marital relations as recreational. To quote Dr. Scott Hahn – sex is not good, sex is not great, sex is holy. To treat something (in this case marital sexual relations) that is holy as merely good is the definition of desecration. With that in mind, it is more than strengthening an emotional bond it is strengthening a spiritual bond and a bodily imaging of the relationship of Christ with His Church (see Eph. 5:22-32). When couples refuse to share their fertility with each other, they create a false image of Christ refusing to give His Life to the Church, His Bride.
Every contraceptive act within marriage destroys both the unitive and the procreative ends of conjugal love. When a couple contracept, they say I want all of you except your fertility; and I give you all of me except my fertility. These ongoing acts of selfishness continually breakdown the union of husband and wife. This is why we find divorce rates among contracepting couples so high and rates among NFP couples almost non-existant (under 0.5%). The Church teaches what she teaches because she loves us too much to allow hurt ourselves.
Second, clarification on the ideas of open and natural. What the Church teaches is that it is necessary that each conjugal act remain ordained in itself [per se destinatus] to procreating of human life (Humanae Vitae Section 11). This is a better translation of the official Latin text, rather than the Italian aperto, which is often translated as open. Either way, this needs to be understood as a direct reminder and presentation of the natural law – the primary purpose of conjugal acts is the procreation of new life. Anything that directly interrupts the procreative or unitive destiny of marital relations violates the natural law that God designed into our bodies.
A few quotes from Humanae Vitae will help:

Two Inseparable Aspects: Union and Procreation § 12. The doctrine that the Magisterium of the Church has often explained is this: there is an unbreakable connection between the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning [of the conjugal act], and both are inherent in the conjugal act. This connection was established by God, and Man is not permitted to break it through his own volition. Therefore, because of its intrinsic nature the conjugal act, which unites husband and wife with the closest of bonds, also makes them capable of bringing forth new life according to the laws written into their very natures as male and female. And if both essential meanings are preserved, that of union and procreation, the conjugal act fully maintains its capacity for [fostering] true mutual love and its ordination to the highest mission of parenthood, to which Man is called. (Emphasis mine)
Faithfulness to the Design of God § 13. People rightly understand that a conjugal act imposed on a spouse, with no consideration given to the condition of the spouse or to the legitimate desires of the spouse, is not a true act of love. They understand that such as act opposes what the moral order rightly requires from spouses. To be consistent, then, if they reflect further, they should acknowledge that it is necessarily true that an act of mutual love that impairs the capacity of bringing forth life contradicts both the divine plan that established the nature of the conjugal bond and also the will of the first Author of human life. For this capacity of bringing forth life was designed by God, the Creator of All, according to [His] specific laws.
Thus, anyone who uses God’s gift [of conjugal love] and cancels, if only in part, the significance and the purpose of this gift is rebelling against either the male or female nature and against the most intimate relationship; for this reason, then, he is defying the plan and holy will of God. On the other hand, the one who uses the gift of conjugal love in accord with the laws of generation acknowledges that he is not the lord of the sources of life but rather the minister of a plan initiated by the Creator. (Again, emphasis mine)

You also state that the Church is so blatantly weak (or even silent) in providing guidelines on proper use of NFP. This claim belies a lack in even attempting to understand the Church’s teaching – a quick reading of Humanae Vitae reveals that Pope Paul VI both anticipated and clearly answered these and other objections. For example, we find in § 16 the following paragraph:

Certainly, there may be serious reasons [iustae causae – just causes] for spacing offspring; these may be based on the physical or psychological condition of the spouses or on external factors. The Church teaches that [in such cases] it is morally permissible [for spouses] to calculate [their fertility by observing the] natural rhythms inherent in the generative faculties and to reserve marital intercourse for infertile times. Thus spouses are able to plan their families without violating the moral teachings set forth above. (Emphasis mine)
You make the claim that using NFP as described above is essentially the same as using a condom. Again, Pope Paul VI (guided by the Holy Spirit) anticipated the challenge and answered in the very next paragraphs:

The Church is not inconsistent when it teaches both that it is morally permissible for spouses to have recourse to infertile periods and that all directly contraceptive practices are morally wrong, even if spouses seem to have good and serious reasons for using these. These two situations are essentially different. In the first, the spouses legitimately use a faculty that is given by nature, in the second case, the spouses impede the order of generation from completing its own natural processes. It cannot be denied that the spouses in each case have, for defensible reasons, made a mutual and firm decision to avoid having a child; and [it cannot be denied that] each of them is attempting to ensure that a child will not be born. Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that only in the first case are the spouses strong enough to abstain from sexual intercourse during the fertile times, when for good reasons, offspring are not desired. And then, when the time is not apt for conception, they make use of intercourse for the sake of manifesting their mutual love and for the sake of maintaining their promised fidelity. Clearly when they do this, they offer witness to truly and completely upright love. (All emphasis is again mine)

I would challenge anyone who claims to disagree with the Church’s teaching on contraception to ACTUALLY READ Humanae Vitae. Few people even try to make an informed dissent. When you read it you will realize that the Church COULD NOT teach otherwise without denying God’s natural law, reducing the dignity of women to mere objects of lust, and destroying the loving bond that holds families together.
You ask whether it is sinful to continually, intentionally, and willfully disobey the natural law as created by God and explained by the Church. This could be used as a good definition of a mortal sin, thus failing to repent can be mortal to the soul. The only mitigating factor is that American Catholics have been poorly catechized about this form of sin. I say possible since each Catholic has an obligation to learn the truth of the teachings of the Church rather than choose to remain willfully ignorant. As with the case of Adam and Eve, many people grasp at godhood by claiming the right to determine good from evil, a right sovereign to God alone.
All of the above quotations are from Humanae Vitae: A Challenge to Love, a new translation from the Latin by Janet E. Smith, Ph.D. and is available by sending $2.00 for each copy to:

New Hope Publications New Hope, Kentucky 40052
Just request the Encyclical with payment and they will be glad to help. Send me an e-mail directly if you are interested in volume purchases. I highly recommend anyone wanting to learn the truth of what the Church teaches and why she teaches this truth own and prayfully and humbly read Humanae Vitae. Also useful in educating yourself on these matters is Humanae Vitae: A Generation Later, also written by Dr. Smith.
For more information on the harmul effects of contraception, see the Gift Foundation's website Click Here
Pax Christi,
Troy Martz
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