A philosophical question on being open to life


The Church teaches that sex is only for married couples. They must also be open to life. I don’t have the quotation from the CCC so maybe you can give it to me.
So basically everything has a purpose or purposes. This also applies to actions/acts.
So sexual acts have many purposes and all of them must be present if it is to be called a morally good act and a couple must always be open to life.
So…then we could say that a piano has many purposes. It can be a furniture and also an instrument. It seems that being open to life in this case would force the person owning the piano taking care of it in order for it to be playable. Otherwise the person is not open to life. It would just be a “dead” instrument.
What do philosophy say about this? And how would the Church philosophically speak about this?


I personally don’t see how human life can be compared to a piano. It’s quite a reach.


My own opinion differs from most Catholics in regard to interpreting Humanae Vitae.

Many Catholics seem to feel that being open to life is about how refraining from using contraception causes a change in your heart that helps you accept that sex, by its nature, is procreative. In this way, they are convinced that refraining from the use of contraceptives makes them less likely to be tempted to abortion.

I say though, they are over-spiritualizing the experience of using contraceptives. This also makes them extremely suspicious of NFP. It causes them to reject the notion of Responsible Parenthood that the document refers to. When the document states speaks of those who generously and prudently have a large family, they interpret this to be a compliment to those who have a large family–as if having a large family were automatically generous and prudent. The idea that a large family should come from an application of prudence and generosity rings deaf in their ears. PART of this is due to a translation problem of Humanae Vitae. (See Humanae Vitae: Grave motives for a Good Translation)

The other issue is Casti Conubii. In Casti Conubii, the Pope did specify that couples needed a grave reason to prevent having children. But it’s important to note that this is because the document came out the very year the Rhythm Method was being developed. It was not being taught. Much of the debate was over contraceptive devices and behaviors and TOTAL abstinence. So when the Pope is talking about preventing children, he’s talking exclusively about creasing sexual relations with your spouse.

I got too long. I’ll continue with a new post.


So Humanae Vitae is actually a doctrinal development just as Casti Conubii was. In Cast Conubii, the Pope acknowledged the unitive purpose of the sexual act. He corrected Catholics who thought that having sex while pregnant, breastfeeding, or during menopause was sinful. He did this by affirming the unitive purpose of sex, which the Anglicans had brought up when they said contraceptives may be immoral in grave situations only.

In Humanae Vitae, the real question was on the morality of the pill. The Pope created a commission to advice him on the nature of the pill. The commission failed to do this. They instead argued that abstinence was bad and that if NFP was allowed, then the entirety of the teaching against contraceptives should be rejected. You have to do some evil to be a responsible parent. They argued is very similarly to Just War theory.

The Pope adopted what they said about Responsible Parenthood but rejected their argument that abstinence was wrong. He then reaffirmed the Church’s old condemnations without directly addressing pill except to say that medicine sometimes involves healing the body by wounding the body. For instance, I might have my gallbladder removed because of gallstones. I shouldn’t remove it for petty reasons though as it’s still better to have a functioning gallbladder.

Meanwhile, he called for a more thorough development of the theology surrounding this issue. A lot of people seem to think this was completely satisfied by the Theology of the Body, but often the arguments are simply posed as a way to get people to conform.

I do think the doctrine is still in a state of development. My husband and I’s rule is that we don’t thwart the nature of the sexual act. There is a point of no return where we consent to having a child, recognizing that if we want intercourse after that point and reject it after that point, we are rejecting each other. But I think sexual expression is much broader than what the Church has thought of it as. I think the sexual functions of the woman have not been fully understood.

Like gluttony, understanding it as simply overeating is primitive. The goal is to nourish our bodies well and to eat a balanced diet and get good exercise. The consequences of sins against gluttony is ill health either through obesity or malnourishment. And yes, these are sins, but we often ignore gluttony and obsess about lust even though classically, they were considered related to each other. They were also viewed as the least of the seven deadly sins.


No where does the Church use the term “open to life” within its official teaching and in fact that phrase is WRONG, and much bad theology follows from its improper use.

The Church actually teaches that each intimate marital act must be “objectively ordered per se toward procreation.” CCC 2366. That simply means that the parts must be put together in the way that nature intended them to be put together and that one cannot use any barriers, physical or chemical, to interfere with the natural process.

A piano just sitting in your living room is still objectively ordered to being a piano. Whether you choose to play it or not.


One more thing, I’ll add is that conservatism tends to be an ideology people cling to. The idea of doctrinal development scares them because they tend to think of Christ as giving us teachings we must preserve like a relic that decays with time. Any change, we tend to see as decay and we freak out. To say that change is illegitimate indicates to them that the truth is relative to time and thus not universal. And so they look back and say “If this development is right, than were people in the past not saved? How can we have more truth than them?”

Well the reality is that time gives us new questions. We have a Living Faith, like a plant we must cultivate. It does grow and change, but it remains the same plant. The key of discerning heresy is asking whether you’re looking at a weed of fungus or rather the growth of the plant. And like pruning sometimes cutting off a limb helps the plant grow. It’s not that the old growth was bad in the least, but for it to adjust to the evolving culture, it must be pruned and allowed to grow even more.

A lot of problems with progressivism in the Church though has to do with the fact that we live in a secular age. Our lives are so busy that we do not naturally pray and reach out to God. Thus we know the truth intellectually but it never digs its roots very deep and becomes an ideology instead. This is why Pope Francis is warning us about ideologies and the need for prayer. And this is all of us that have to learn–the progressives included. Simply saying we should stop using memorized prayers and be completely spontaneous is not the answer.

Pope Francis’ humility and guidance is actually good. We need to be humble enough to see that while acknowledging he will still make mistakes.


That is a good point. The open to life component may probably be found more clearly in our marriage rite when we consent to lovingly accept children as a gift from God.


Yes, this along the same reasoning I have heard from a Catholic course I have been taking. In sexual intercourse the male has certain genetic material that he contributes and the female has genetic material that she contributes in order to enable procreation to occur. All objections to Catholic sexual moral teachings can be answered starting with this basic fact of biology. Does contraception allow for this exchange of genetic material leading to procreation? No. Do homosexual acts? No. Does Masturbation? No.

Contraception, homosexual acts, and masturbation is the act of taking away the natural end of sex, that is procreation, for pleasure only. Just like eating glass would go against the natural end of eating which is nutrition. The powerful stimuli in the human body to bring humans to the act of sex is there to help achieve procreation. Just like food may taste good but the taste is not an end to itself, but is to lead to nutrition of the body. Similarly, sexual pleasure is not an end to itself, but to lead to procreation.

Does this mean Catholics cannot plan their families? .Of course not. Catholics can and do using NFP.

Next, Scripture itself condemns contraception, through the sin of Onan, where God killed him for having sex without the possibility of procreation through coitus interuptus. This was not the usual punishment for the crime of shirking his brotherly duty to provide children for the dead brothers wife which is spelled out in the Bible. Instead God kills Onan for having used his brothers wife for merely sexual pleasure, not allowing procreation, which was seen as abominable to God, enough to warrant death.


There are didferent ways of reading your CCC quote: “objectively ordered per se toward procreation.” CCC 2366

I actually read this as God is the Existence Itself and Life Itself. Our responsibility is to be open to his plan and accept that objects, persons and acts have purposes.
About the piano. You are free to just look at a woman without doing anything with her. You could argue that about the piano.
So it seems that we are free to choose only one purpose. Sexual acts the Church states must be open to all purposes. So when you marry another it is very important that you are open to all purposes of matrimony.
When buying a piano you do not have to be open to all purposes of buying a piano. When I bought my piano I could have chosen to just seeing it as a furniture but I also accepted the purpose of me playing it. I was not saying no to an imoortant purpose. You could argue how well I practised as you can with matrimonym
So thr question is: when are you allowes to not be open to all purposes?


Unequivocally NO

“Being open” is not proper language to describe the Church’s teaching with respect to marital acts. We need to not conflate, as someone else wisely pointed out, the promises for a “valid marriage” with the requirements for individual marital acts. Your perspective could lead one to conclude that every time a couple engages in marital relations they must be trying to conceive a child. That is absolutely not the teaching of the Church.
Second, the teaching of the CCC is very clear. With all due respect, it cannot be read in “different ways”. It can only be read in the way the Church intends it to be read. It is making clear the traditional teaching of the Church, articulated in Humanae Vitae , with respect to what is necessary to licitly engage in intimate acts, based on the Natural Law. That requires only, without being too vulgar, that the parts are ultimately put together in the way they are intended to be put together, and that we do nothing “unnatural” (i.e not consistent with natural law), either physically or chemically, to interfere with the completion of the process. (I think you can understand what I am saying and I will not be more specific due to the age of some of those who visit this site).


The issue is the perversion of our sexual faculties.

Not using a piano involves no perversion of our natural ends. The only exception would be if it became some sort of idolatry (which would be a perversion), but simply the idea of “having a piano and not playing it” is not that.


From where does “open to life” come from? Is it to be avoided?

My understanding was that in marriage you are free to have sex if you are open to all the purposes of the sexual act. But when playing the piano I am free to say no to some of the purposes of piano playing. You might think that I am stupid or something but…I am just trying to understand teleology. This fascinates me but I am not fully getting it.
I remember listening to Father Mike Schmitz talking about teleology. He something like this: a chair’s purpose is for us to sit on it. But I think he oversimplified something. We could just choose to see it as only an object to look at.
What am I to make of this and where can I learn more about this topic?


Consider the use of natural family planning by the married couple.

Pope Pius XII, Allocation to Midwives, 1951:

The matrimonial contract, which confers on the married couple the right to satisfy the inclination of nature, constitutes them in a state of life, namely, the matrimonial state. Now, on married couples, who make use of the specific act of their state, nature and the Creator impose the function of providing for the preservation of mankind. This is the characteristic service which gives rise to the peculiar value of their state, the <bonum prolis>. The individual and society, the people and the State, the Church itself, depend for their existence, in the order established by God, on fruitful marriages. Therefore, to embrace the matrimonial state, to use continually the faculty proper to such a state and lawful only therein, and, at the same time, to avoid its primary duty without a grave reason, would be a sin against the very nature of married life.

Serious motives, such as those which not rarely arise from medical, eugenic, economic and social so-called “indications,” may exempt husband and wife from the obligatory, positive debt for a long period or even for the entire period of matrimonial life. From this it follows that the observance of the natural sterile periods may be lawful, from the moral viewpoint: and it is lawful in the conditions mentioned. If, however, according to a reasonable and equitable judgment, there are no such grave reasons either personal or deriving from exterior circumstances, the will to avoid the fecundity of their union, while continuing to satisfy to tile full their sensuality, can only be the result of a false appreciation of life and of motives foreign to sound ethical principles.



Moral sexual matters applies to person to person relationship. It is soemthing fondamental. The philosophy behind here, according to the late Pope John-Paul II, is personalist.
We do not treat people like means, but end. (Kant principle).

A piano is an object, so the morality in it usage here is different.


Use an object and not a person seems find but…shouldnt all acts be open to all the purpose that act can bring. Shouldn’t a pianist be open to all the possibilities of the piano playing act. I cannot just reduce piano playing to pleasure. Neither just a hobby. Every act is extremely serious and have many purposes. Saying no to one of those purposes seem like saying no to the calling of the Lord. Don’t you think?


No, I don’t think so.
We have to distinguish thoses categories, gradually speaking:

  • The “relation” between a person and an inanimate object. Here, as there is only one person, the other object is a subject, a furniture.
  • the relation between a person and a plant
  • the relation between a person and an animal
  • the person to person relationship.

The last category involved two human parts how must be respected fully. It is interpersonal relation.
In this category, one category is very special: the conjugal relationship. Because marriage is bringing up to a sacramental covenant, and to the image of the love of the Christ for his Church.
If we follow the reasonning of John Kippley (explained in Rome sweet Home, By Scott Hahn), from every categories of covenant (contract) between persons, marriage is unique because its conclusion and renewal is the conjugal act that is ipso facto also the procreative act which have the power to bring a new life to the world. To reject one of this end is a profanation (treated something as profane).

As a conclusion there is two ends (and not only “puroposes”) of the conjugal act: unitive and procreative. We as, members of the Church believe that thoses two ends should not be artificially separated. Because it will be against the nature and God’s design for sex and conjugal life.

We cannot compare this to a piano. A piano is not open to life. And the morality explained here is not to use all the purpose of every object/subject/act, but to respected the two ends of the sexual intercourse.

If I have a table, it is perfectly ok if I eat on it, but not write on it.

I have not study the morality of act apply to the use of object. It is just an introduction.


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