Has Church teaching on NFP been changed?


#1

Has there ever been an infallible teaching that has defined sex between husband and wife as sinful? I know that many prominent bishops and even popes have spoken of the necessity of keeping the procreative meaning of the marital embrace as its primary objective. Some gave their personal opinion about abstaining during the fertile time as sinful. And, many within the NFP community today would say that avoiding the fertile time of the woman’s cycle for a large amount of time, is selfish. Yet, does any of this amount to a “change in Church teaching” on the meaning of the marital act? I don’t believe it does, but if, in fact, there was an infallible teaching that early forms of NFP were, in fact, sinful, I would like to know about it. I have seen many quotes from St. Augustine, St. Jerome, etc., but I don’t believe these are considered infallible, but are, rather, personal opinion. Also, it may be that these quotes are taken out of context and these saints were addressing couples who were using sex selfishly to avoid children altogether, which would, of course, be a sin against marriage.

I ask this question because some are claiming that because some of the writings of the early Church fathers focused on their belief that sex should be predominantly procreative, and now modern NFP instructors seem to be avoiding the issue by leaving these decisions to the couples, that somehow the Church is inconsistent and perhaps the Church is incapable of even teaching us anything on this matter. Or, at least not infallibly, so then perhaps we should all be able to use our own “conscience” in this matter and just go ahead and use ABC and practice any other manner of unnatural acts, since Church teaching on human sexuality is “fluid” or “in flux”. :shrug:


#2

Interesting thoughts, unfortunately, I do not have an answer for you, but I am curious to hear what other members on CAF have to say about it.


#3

[quote="sacredcello, post:1, topic:244355"]
Has there ever been an infallible teaching that has defined sex between husband and wife as sinful?

[/quote]

No

I know that many prominent bishops and even popes have spoken of the necessity of keeping the procreative meaning of the marital embrace as its primary objective. Some gave their personal opinion about abstaining during the fertile time as sinful. And, many within the NFP community today would say that avoiding the fertile time of the woman's cycle for a large amount of time, is selfish. Yet, does any of this amount to a "change in Church teaching" on the meaning of the marital act? I don't believe it does, but if, in fact, there was an infallible teaching that early forms of NFP were, in fact, sinful, I would like to know about it. I have seen many quotes from St. Augustine, St. Jerome, etc., but I don't believe these are considered infallible, but are, rather, personal opinion. Also, it may be that these quotes are taken out of context and these saints were addressing couples who were using sex selfishly to avoid children altogether, which would, of course, be a sin against marriage.

I ask this question because some are claiming that because some of the writings of the early Church fathers focused on their belief that sex should be predominantly procreative, and now modern NFP instructors seem to be avoiding the issue by leaving these decisions to the couples, that somehow the Church is inconsistent and perhaps the Church is incapable of even teaching us anything on this matter.

I think those earlier teaching are one reason the Church was relatively slow to promote NFP. I understand that it was known since before the modern ABC age but only taught to couples who were obstinately continued using ABC. NFP was only vigorously promoted when ABC gained popularity.

Or, at least not infallibly, so then perhaps we should all be able to use our own "conscience" in this matter and just go ahead and use ABC and practice any other manner of unnatural acts, since Church teaching on human sexuality is "fluid" or "in flux". :shrug:

While the Church has restored balance to her teachings, they certainly have not changed nor are they subject to change.


#4

One thing that should be mentioned, is that NFP is not a Catholic alternative to ABC, because the primary use of ABC is NOT to prevent conception due to some grave reason, rather it is primarily used to avoid children at whim.

Catholics should avoid seeing NFP in any light but a way for Catholics, out of need, to regulate births.


#5

[quote="SonCatcher, post:3, topic:244355"]
NoI think those earlier teaching are one reason the Church was relatively slow to promote NFP. I understand that it was known since before the modern ABC age but only taught to couples who were obstinately continued using ABC. NFP was only vigorously promoted when ABC gained popularity.While the Church has restored balance to her teachings, they certainly have not changed nor are they subject to change.

[/quote]

What are the source(s) of your information?


#6

What are the source(s) of your information?


#7

[quote="sacredcello, post:1, topic:244355"]

I ask this question because some are claiming that because some of the writings of the early Church fathers focused on their belief that sex should be predominantly procreative, and now modern NFP instructors seem to be avoiding the issue by leaving these decisions to the couples, that somehow the Church is inconsistent and perhaps the Church is incapable of even teaching us anything on this matter.

[/quote]

You have hit the nail on the head, and I would love to see a requirement that if nfp is being taught as "Catholic" or on Church property, that the instructor be required from the beginning of the course to read, understand, and teach what the ccc has to say about the matter.


#8

[quote="sacredcello, post:1, topic:244355"]
Has there ever been an infallible teaching that has defined sex between husband and wife as sinful? I know that many prominent bishops and even popes have spoken of the necessity of keeping the procreative meaning of the marital embrace as its primary objective. Some gave their personal opinion about abstaining during the fertile time as sinful. And, many within the NFP community today would say that avoiding the fertile time of the woman's cycle for a large amount of time, is selfish. Yet, does any of this amount to a "change in Church teaching" on the meaning of the marital act? I don't believe it does, but if, in fact, there was an infallible teaching that early forms of NFP were, in fact, sinful, I would like to know about it. I have seen many quotes from St. Augustine, St. Jerome, etc., but I don't believe these are considered infallible, but are, rather, personal opinion. Also, it may be that these quotes are taken out of context and these saints were addressing couples who were using sex selfishly to avoid children altogether, which would, of course, be a sin against marriage.

I ask this question because some are claiming that because some of the writings of the early Church fathers focused on their belief that sex should be predominantly procreative, and now modern NFP instructors seem to be avoiding the issue by leaving these decisions to the couples, that somehow the Church is inconsistent and perhaps the Church is incapable of even teaching us anything on this matter. Or, at least not infallibly, so then perhaps we should all be able to use our own "conscience" in this matter and just go ahead and use ABC and practice any other manner of unnatural acts, since Church teaching on human sexuality is "fluid" or "in flux". :shrug:

[/quote]

I know this is of concern to you as it was to me when the challenge was first brought up. Therefore I should, with the help of God's grace, ease your concerns. I hope He will help me.

I did quite a bit of surfing on the web about this issue. I have found various articles. Some state that the Church has changed its teaching (usually these people are disenchanted with the Church's teaching on contraception). Others were not so explicit. There are very few articles that address the issue entirely in favor of the Church's infallibility. But looking for a couple days, I think I was able to it the pieces together.

The opinions of many members of the Church seem to change over time, though her official teaching does not. Many instances of this abound. Before the time of Constantine, the Roman Emperor, most Christians were probably pacifist. However, as Christianity became more accepted by the state, questions began to arise whether war was always wrong. Thus begins the just war theory with the Church. Some are for just war, while others are pacifist. The issue of women is also another one. Obviously being influenced by the Greek philosophers, many of the Scholastics and the Fathers thought that women were inferior to men. Of course this attitude has changed over time. It does not amount to any change in teaching. Likewise with Limbo. Then we come to the question of whether a procreative intent is necessary for every sexual act. Influenced greatly by sophism some Church Fathers, most particularly St. Augustine, see the use of the sexual act with a procreative intent is at least a venial sin ( Chapter 16*On Marriage and Concupiscence*). Others like St. Gregory the Great, while encouraging detachment from sexual pleasure in marriage, says that to have sex without a procreative intent ( "incontinently") is not a sin (See Pastoral Rule Book III Chapter 28 Second Paragraph). One thing is certain. The Fathers surely condemned the use of potions or antidotes or others methods to prevent the conception of children. This should be taken with the mind that the Fathers' idea of how a child is made was not very limited. Another thing to mention is that many of the Fathers theological ideas are more pastoral than dogmatic. That is to say that they are more private opinions about what should be done in a particular case than universally binding.

Some say that the Fathers knew of the rhythm method because St. Augustine mentions a kind of periodic abstinence in one of his works. I note that many historians dispute about what it was St. Augustine was talking about, but whatever it was he is the one of the only Fathers (maybe the only one) who mentions it. For this reason, I think it is logical to assume that most of the Fathers did not know about or at least did not consider it an important topic to merit writing. Whatever the Manicheans knew probably died out with them. No one (or almost no one, I'm afraid of absolutes) mentions it again.

There is more I need to add so I will continue with another post later.


#9

The majority of the Church's teachings on NFP are based on the Encyclicals Casti Connubii and Humanae Vitae...

Much of the history of how these teachings developed (not "changed", but improved over time) is described within the encyclicals themselves... READ THEM... ;) :)


#10

As an NFP instructor, I have been required to read the ccc portions that pertain to the Sacrament of Matrimony and holiness within marriage as part of my training along with analysis of Theology of the Body. However, it is my understanding that there has never been an infallible teaching that sex between a husband and wife is sinful during the infertile time. Yes, St. Augustine and many others wrote vehemently about the necessity of sex being first and foremost procreative. But, I don’t believe it has ever been defined by the Magisterium as sinful to abstain for serious or just reasons.


#11

[quote="Em_in_FL, post:9, topic:244355"]
The majority of the Church's teachings on NFP are based on the Encyclicals Casti Connubii and Humanae Vitae...

Much of the history of how these teachings developed (not "changed", but improved over time) is described within the encyclicals themselves... READ THEM... ;) :)

[/quote]

Thanks, Em in Fl! Yes, I have read these encyclicals, but I'm not sure how to counter someone who claims that the "onus" is on me to prove that Church teaching has not changed on NFP, and is therefore, totally unreliable.


#12

[quote="Image_of_God, post:8, topic:244355"]

There is more I need to add so I will continue with another post later.

[/quote]

Thank you, Image of God. This is very helpful. I will look forward to studying your post more carefully when I'm not in a rush, and look forward to reading your next one. Thank you so much! :)


#13

[quote="sacredcello, post:11, topic:244355"]
Thanks, Em in Fl! Yes, I have read these encyclicals, but I'm not sure how to counter someone who claims that the "onus" is on me to prove that Church teaching has not changed on NFP, and is therefore, totally unreliable.

[/quote]

I decided not to get involved in that other thread, but I assume you're talking about the one that was closed and the poster who was quoting the church fathers saying that NFP couldn't have been allowed????
That particular post misinterpreted those church fathers... in my opinion...:o


#14

[quote="sacredcello, post:10, topic:244355"]
As an NFP instructor, I have been required to read the ccc portions that pertain to the Sacrament of Matrimony and holiness within marriage as part of my training along with analysis of Theology of the Body. However, it is my understanding that there has never been an infallible teaching that sex between a husband and wife is sinful during the infertile time. Yes, St. Augustine and many others wrote vehemently about the necessity of sex being first and foremost procreative. But, I don't believe it has ever been defined by the Magisterium as sinful to abstain for serious or just reasons.

[/quote]

Context: St. Augustine, before his conversion, was a Manichean and fornicator (source: Confession of St. Augustine).

Since that was his background, it is understandable he dealt with the subject more severely than others would have. Because he was writing so early in the Church age, he also had the privilege of being greatly influential on later writers.


#15

[quote="sacredcello, post:11, topic:244355"]
Thanks, Em in Fl! Yes, I have read these encyclicals, but I'm not sure how to counter someone who claims that the "onus" is on me to prove that Church teaching has not changed on NFP, and is therefore, totally unreliable.

[/quote]

If they are disagreeing with multiple popes, I would say that the burden of proof is on them! That said, the quote from Gregory the Great earlier in this thread could be helpful.


#16

You lost me here.


#17

Continued from the last post...

Although some of the Early Church Fathers were even against barren or infertile couples engaging in the conjugal act, such was not the official position. Such it was not that St. Thomas Aquinas could say in his Summa Theologica that

Although old people have not sufficient calidity to procreate, they have sufficient to copulate. Wherefore they are allowed to marry, in so far as marriage is intended as a remedy [of concupiscence], although it does not befit them as fulfilling an office of nature.

(See Reply to Objection 3 of the First Article). He also says in his Summa Contra Gentiles that

...if it is by accident [that is, "by circumstance"] that generation cannot follow from the emission of the semen, the act is not against nature on that account, nor is it sinful; the case of the woman being barren would be a case in point

(See the Third Paragraph of Chapter 122). From these two references, we can gather that St. Thomas Aquinas did not think that one had to intend to procreate every time they preformed the conjugal act. The only thing required for him is that the act be done in a way that procreation could occur if it were not for naturally occurring circumstances.

It would be worthwhile to see what the Council of Trent says about contraception.

It should be known that the Fathers of the Council of Trent (as the Tridentine Mass which became universalized from it) payed very close attention to detail and had a keen desire for exactness. The above quote expresses the current position of the Magisterium that using medicine to prevent conception is intrinsically evil. But they say nothing of NFP methods. Why? I can speculate of two reasons:

  1. They were not aware of these methods
  2. They were aware of infertile periods, but did not think the use of them were wrong.

It's not an either-or case, but I think the first is more probable especially considering that the fertility cycles of animals were not discovered until the 1840s and only later that of humans. But the second reason is not too far-fetched especially considering St. Francis De Sales, who lived around the time of the Council of Trent, in his most famous work Introduction to the Devout Life taught that this:

You'll have to scroll down to Part 3 Chapter 39.

It took me a while to find this quote especially since in more common versions of Introduction Chapter 39 is shortened. I'm not sure why. Nonetheless, in the quote, St. Francis de Sales basically says that because procreation is the primary end of marriage (note he does not say only), it is not lawful to depart from the order in which the act would be procreative. He also says that even when procreation is not an expectation (such as when the woman is barren or during pregnancy), the marital embrace does not cease to be holy provided it remains ordered to procreation. Sound familiar?

I will continue.


#18

As previously stated, the fact that human beings had fertility cycles was not discovered until the mid-19th century and only after observing them in animals. So the two cases of infertility, barrenness and during pregnancy, are probably the only two cases that St. Francis de Sales knew about. In that case, I find in his work a precursor to the Magesterium's position of NFP a.k.a periodic abstinence which was finally established in the mid-19th century. I have not been able to find a direct source where the official position was given. All that I've seen is through second hand quoting. But I do find it trustworthy.

In 1853, a Catholic bishop from France asked the following question:

Certain married couples, relying on the opinion of learned physicians, are convinced that there are several days each month in which conception cannot occur. Are those who do not use the marriage right except on such days to be disturbed, especially if they have legitimate reasons for abstaining from the conjugal act?

During the reign of Pope Pius IX, the Church responded as such:

Those spoken of in the request are not to be disturbed, providing that they do nothing to impede conception.

Again in 1880, a Catholic priest asked these questions:

Whether married couples may have intercourse during such sterile periods without committing mortal or venial sin?

Whether the confessor may suggest such a procedure either to the wife who detests the onanism of her husband but cannot correct him, or to either spouse who shrinks from having numerous children?

During the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII, the Catholic Church responded:

Married couples who use their marriage right in the aforesaid manner are not to be disturbed, and the confessor may suggest the opinion in question, cautiously, however, to those married people whom he has tried in vain by other means to dissuade from the detestable crime of onanism.

These quotes can be found here, although I should warn you that the owners of the website are a schismatic organization (they don't abide by the teachings of Vatican II). But I selected the quotes because they were useful.

As can be seen by the quotes, the Church was initially cautious about NFP, but it has said that it is a legitimate method from the first time she said anything at all. Obviously you, being a teacher of NFP, probably know the two encyclicals that followed: Casti Connubii and Humanae Vitae. Both affirm the practice of NFP with certain conditions, of course.

I'm sorry it was long, but I hope I have been a great help to you.


#19

Bless you for taking the time to so carefully explain what you have learned. I appreciate it very much and will read each of the articles you have quoted in full.

The quote from St. Gregory the Great is very helpful, as well as your first sentence: opinions change, but Church teaching does not.

My husband and I are teaching a new NFP class on Monday and hope to convey current Church teaching to the best of our ability.

I was disconcerted earlier today by another poster on CAF who claimed that Church teaching on NFP has somehow changed and so the entire matter is, therefore, questionable because the Church could change again to allow ABC.

This is very helpful. So, if St. Augustine is the only Church Father that we know who may have mentioned periodic abstinence, then this certainly does not meet the necessary requirement of an infallible teaching. Rather, it means that St. Augustine felt strongly that couples should not use the infertile times of the cycle to be overtly selfish. Hey, that sounds a lot like what we hear in some of the modern NFP literature! :slight_smile: Currently, NFP instructors give a brief overview of Blessed John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and give a witness talk about how this has worked in our own married lives. We are encouraged to let this witness stand on its own. We do not teach them under which circumstances they may or may not abstain during the fertile time. While a selfish use of Phase III is not taught or encouraged, it is quite another matter for someone to claim that NFP is a sin, or that this was ever the official Church position on sex between husband and wife. Of course, if a couple were using NFP to avoid children altogether, this would certainly be a misuse of marriage, and a sin. For children are the primary purpose of marriage.


#20

[quote="mark_a, post:16, topic:244355"]
You lost me here.

[/quote]

How so?

Would you point me to an article which will prove that NFP has ever been condemned by the Church, and that the Church has now changed by allowing for the practice of NFP in marriage?


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