from being a "lifestyle" or an "exercise
in self-control," the systematic
use of "natural methods" of birth control, unjustifiable
as they are by reasons proportionate to the duty of procreation
which they intend to avoid, actually constitute a highway
to hell "for wide is the gate, and broad is the way
that leadeth to destruction, and many there are who go
in thereat" (Mt. 7:13).
is also quite logical,
whoever does not strive for self-control will not even
be able to control himself later on, and whoever believes
that he can dominate his evil tendencies by relying solely
upon his own puny strength without sincerely seeking divine
help with perseverance, will surely and inevitably remain
deceived. (Pope Pius XII, Address to Midwives,
Oct. 29, 1951)
children that were never conceived?
how are we to seek and obtain divine help if we go against
God's will? Thus do we come to understand that the "lifestyle"
and "exercise of self-control" are, in reality,
nothing but a presumptuous self-delusion and, in the end,
sheer hypocrisy meant to cover up a very wretched reality.
The priests who still listen to penitents in confession
are quite aware of this fact.
to what point we can delude ourselves through the systematic
and unjustified recourse to "natural methods"
of birth control can best be depicted by Ivan Gobry in his
book, Amour conjugal et fécondité [Conjugal
Love and Fecundity],1
one of the best works on this question which we have been
able to obtain. We deem it useful to provide our readers
with a few extracts from this text:
the proponents of the above-mentioned 'natural methods'
have sought to pose the problem on the level of asceticism,
hard facts will provide the answer on that same plane.
Which calls for the greater self-sacrifice ?-Merely avoiding
carnal relations, or else carrying a child over a period
of nine months, then feeding and nursing it, worrying
and crying over it and not knowing rest and freedom over
a stretch of several years?
such a comparison remains still too theoretical. For those
spouses who have chosen to do God's will in having a large
family, reality is something quite different. For them,
continence has become the rule since pregnancies, nursings,
and periods of fatigue all constitute factors favoring
chronic abstinence much more serious than the fear of
begetting a child. The profound happiness stemming from
the spouses' mutual collaboration in the service of such
pure and delicate beings confers a new meaning to their
chastity. The husband faithfully standing by his wife
weighed down by hard work and ennobled through her generosity,
experiences for her a saintly, even a godly respect for
his wife which can scarcely be understood by a man whose
partner rejects motherhood as a source of shame and disgrace.
spouses make use of periodical continence in order to
avoid their God-given responsibilities, while faithful
couples practice continence as a result of having cooperated
in God's plan of bringing new souls into the world for
heaven's sake. How grotesque indeed is that caricature
often presented to young idealistic couples of two 'sensual'
spouses who have several children 'through lack of moderation.'"2
necessary continence for couples raising a large family
does not cause them serious problems. Quite on the contrary,
the "continence" of those other couples who
busy themselves in avoiding having children, simply continues
poisoning their daily lives. Constantly attracted to one
another and all the more since they are not busy, and
therefore less prone to fatigue [through concern for their
children], they find themselves forever torn between desire
and reason, between risk and prudence. Their sole possibility
of escaping such a dangerous state for their chastity
and mental stability lies in two equally fearsome solutions:
mutual indifference or having recourse to contraception.
indifference leads to an enervating exasperation. Nor
can it be understood that such would constitute a more
righteous course, since it cheats the spouses of that
which they owe one to the other in all justice. Carnal
separation will soon beget the separation of the couple's
affections. Each goes about his own business which takes
up all of his attention, making them forget the wonder
of their first love. But beware of those temptations lurking
outside of the family hearth. The body, always inclined
to its passions and having been temporarily neutralized
through trickery and not through deep virtue, will take
its inevitable revenge at the first or some other occasion,
and that love which was divinely destined for procreation
will soon be swallowed up in base treachery.
methods, on the other hand, allow the married couple to
come together in carnal knowledge at the risk and cost,
however, of true tenderness and serenity. What they do
allow, in fact, is responsibility-free sensual gratification
with nothing in return, without responsibility or commitment.
They even fly in the face of a possible
commitment or responsibility. If the unity of the spouses
has not previously been attained through prior sacrifice,
their unity will then be founded on the moving sands of
fear and negations which will soon be understood as a
kind of complicity in evil, rather than a union based
on true love. Since, unfortunately (for the Malthusians),
those periods wherein the wife is the most attracted to
her husband also correspond to her cycles of fertility
- all of which corresponds exactly with the life-producing
aims of nature - those days of abstention will then be
times of increasing tension and of unusually strange resistance,
while those sterile periods, considered as an opportunity
to be seized as it arises, will demand the most sexual
encounters possible. These will be provoked at the expense
of the true rushes of affection he feels for her and will
be exploited at the expense of gentleness and consideration.
must also be noted that the Malthusians, being of those
who, in order to excuse their refusal to excuse
their refusal to have those children wanted by God, pretend
that the spouses' mutual tender affections constitute
the first goal of marriage, here again are found to be
contradicting themselves. That which they are obtaining
in fact is not only a spiritual lessening as a result
of their selfishness, but also a decrease of that freshness
of their affection and spontaneity of their love for one
will then resort to yet new "remedies," those
refined methods which will let them give themselves to
one another in the wife's fertile periods without, however,
completing the act of procreation, known as onanism
[i.e., interruption, after Onan; cf. Gen. 38:9]. Over
and above that, the systematic practice of such methods
constitutes much more directly the cult of a freestyle
kind of sexual self-gratification, and such an abuse of
the natural act (if it can still be regarded as such)
constantly exposes the couple to two well-established
risks: 1) that of falling short
of the expected sensual pleasure and, 2) that
of bringing new life into the world. And since the flesh
has not finally received its full part which would have
been the complete act, both spouses, who have tried to
obtain the most satisfactory result possible find themselves,
after their sensual encounter, more dissatisfied and frustrated
that needs to be done now is to take issue with the morality
involved in such cases. For those whose top priority in
life amounts to simply enjoying themselves by systematically
and always satisfying their lower instincts, God's laws
will soon become an intolerable burden. So long as they
can fool themselves into various detours and devious interpretations,
they will still retain a modicum of respect for the commandments.
But a day will inevitably come when God's laws will be
seen as a nuisance and much too bothersome. Then it will
be unmistakably clear that such compromise has become
simply unbearable. All that there is left is the choice
of living in sin or that of total self-renunciation. Alas!
such persons have never been in the habit of exercising
self-control as have those good parents who, for the sake
of their children, generously accept all manner of fatigue
and personal sacrifices. On the other hand, sin has invaded
and poisoned the Malthusians' very existence. After a
few experiences of this type, if the couple does not accept
the great moral awakening wanted by God, such people find
themselves settling, once and for all, into a permanent
life of sin. Two attitudes will result from such a situation:
1) either admitting or acknowledging
defeat in bitterness and disgust for themselves and for
the sacraments or else 2) simply
denying sin altogether as they accuse moralists of ignorance
and of an appalling form of torture."3
is all very 'nice' to pretend that mutual 'indifference'
as well as contraceptive methods (even though 'natural')
amount to some sort of positive 'asceticism.' However,
if they stem from selfishness, they are based on a sinful
mentality. It is not too surprising that they lead to
serious sin. In both cases, it is manifest that such 'continence'
is not a virtue, and prudence is not to be found in such
advocates of conjugal happiness through Malthusian means
[i.e., self-gratification as the primary goal in marriage
-Ed.] certainly have a very limited experience
of family life. Normally, the spouses' happiness is increased
with the arrival of each new child in the family. To those
worried and constantly tempted couples who torture their
conscience, consult books, and storm confessionals, we
simply say: 'Have children and all such problems will
soon fade away.' Other problems may arise, but, at least,
these will not prove to be useless. Such will be problems
of ordinary life. Moreover, they will not be found in
the shade of shame but in the life of their duty generously
we see to what point conjugal chastity, religious chastity
as well as priestly chastity are all part of and share
in the same virtue. It consists in the complete surrender
or self-denial of one's body which was made to serve God's
will and not made for self-gratification or rest here
may we add, it seems just as clear that anyone who forgets
all about his duties of state is simply fashioning himself
a much heavier cross, while risking - God forbid - his eternal
the book, Problems in Conjugal Life, of Fr. J.
Visser, C.SS.R., we read:
chief characteristic of the systematic use of periodical
continence lies in its twofold finality - one positive
and one negative. In truth, it is not, as its name would
lead us to believe, a purely negative affair, simply abstaining
from conjugal acts during specific times. Such a system,
precisely, implies a positive right of use of conjugal
rights together with the sensual pleasures inherent therein,
as well as the fulfillment of the secondary ends of coitus
(including especially the experience and expression of
mutual marital love), with, at the same time, the negative
will of avoiding procreation. And it is precisely this
union of two contradictory ends which gives rise to those
problems as to its value....
fundamental principle upon which we are to find the solution
to such a moral problem lies in the spouses' positive duty
of cooperating, through their regularly repeated conjugal
unions, in the procreation of new life. This principle is
often neglected and put in doubt and indeed even roundly
denied....Human sexuality was instituted by the Creator
primarily and fundamentally for a purpose going far beyond
the couple's gratification, that is to say, for procreation
or the begetting of new life....Following this fundamental
goal we have, of course, other secondary ends or purposes
concerning the manner in which the procreative act is carried
out. Now, the very fact of taking advantage of sexual relations
solely for the sake of their secondary purposes through
a positive act of the couple's will, while simultaneously
effectively excluding their primary and fundamental purpose,
constitutes an unreasonable refusal of that order laid down
by God Himself.
Paris: Nouvelles editions latines, 1969.
Ibid., pp. 44-45.
Ibid., pp. 45-47.
Ibid., p. 48.
Ibid., p. 49.
Visser, C.SS.R., "Periodical Continence" in Problemi
di vita coniugale [Problems in Conjugal Life], (Rome: Sales)
from Courrier de Rome (Jan. 1998) exclusively for Angelus
Press. Edited slightly by Fr. Kenneth Novak. The book
from which this installment was excerpted, Amour conjugal
et fécondité [Conjugal Love and
Fidelity] by Ivan Gobry. (Available from: Nouvelles
Èditions Latines, 1 rue Palatine, 75006 Paris.
Tel.  (1) 43 45 77 42.
Courtesy of the Angelus
Press, Kansas City, MO 64109
translated from the Italian
Fr. Du Chalard
Via Madonna degli Angeli, 14
Italia 00049 Velletri (Roma)
2002 Volume XXV, Number 11