NFP and the primacy of procreative over unitive?

Church teaching says that NFP to avoid pregnancy should be employed relatively infrequently, eg to achieve a practical spacing of children or to avoid pregnancy at seriously inopportune times.

The following poster also states that historically, the church has placed the procreative aspect of sex above/before the unitive aspect, which somewhat aligns with the above.

I’m wondering how married couples are interpreting the above, and what implications this has for family size?

I wouldn’t phrase it like that. The Church says couples must have just or serious motives for using NFP, but she does not say that such situations warranting NFP use are rare or infrequently-occuring.

I think there are two main issues to clarify about this:

First, the directly “sexual” issue. NFP in no way diminishes or takes away the procreative aspect of the marital act. A marital act between a husband and wife is just as procreative during fertile and infertile times. The reason is that the act is 100% inherently ordered to new life no matter when it takes place. Also, it remains so no matter what happens AFTER the act. In other words, if someone has not yet ovulated that month, it is not as though the sexual act is somehow not ordered to new life (the act is the exact same either way) but another stage afterwards (namely ovulation) in the process is inhibiting conception.
So NFP does not change any of this, sex remains open to life when a couple are practicing strict NFP to avoid having a child or when they are trying to have a child- either way-the marital acts are always procreative (by their own nature).

Secondly is the marriage issue. Couples are required by the natural law to be open to life in general in marriage…this goes beyond the individual sexual acts. This is a duty of the married, as it is the primary purpose for marriage, and the reason for its existence. The Church teaches that a married couple should understand that this is part of what it means to be married and also to be a Christian means to unselfishly accept the duties of your state in life and vocation (marriage) along with welcoming all children into the marriage EVEN if that means making sacrifices yourself as married people.

However, the Church does not teach that married people must have the maximum number of children or must make every conceivable sacrifice to have kids. On the contrary, the Church teaches, that couples may chose not to have a kid at the time or indefinitely if there are seriously proportionate reasons. I.E. reasons that balance out the duty to be open to life within marriage. This is when a couple is justified using NFP.

The supposed “primacy” of the procreative over the unitive is a misunderstanding of the teaching. They have equal importance.

That is how I read **current **teaching. Do you therefore say that what is written in the following post is wrong - that poster is quite specific about the timeframe (when he says the teaching changed), though provides no reference:

Yes, fair enough. The Church uses expressions such as “serious motives” and “just reasons” for using NFP to avoid the fertile times. These terms are fairly general, and open to influence by personal circumstances, but give the sense that avoiding more children because the parents feel “comfortable” with X kids might not pass the “just” or “serious” test. They also give the sense that, in general, more children is “better”. A healthy society and even survival of the species dictates there needs to be children, but is the Church encouraging a view that “more is (intrinsically) better”?

This is incorrect, the encyclical Casti Conubbi states otherwise.

No, but look what I said above.
Its the general duty of married people to have kids and be willing to make personal sacrifices in order to make that happen.

More is not necessarily better but more kids is better than more cars or vacations

Why? If a couple feel that 2 or 3 kids has made a comfortable, happy family, why have more just because circumstances permit it?

A shift in emphasis does not equate a shift in teaching.

Paragraph, please. It’s going to take some time for me to read and I may gloss over something.

Thus far, I have Paragraph 11, which begins, “Thus amongst the blessings of marriage, the child holds the first place.”

To which I respond: why first place? Is this placement for enumeration purposes only or is it necessarily ordered above other blessings/purposes. Thus far, I see no reason it should be the latter; even including the rest of paragraph 11.

Make no mistake, I do believe the procreative aspect of conjugal union is perhaps the deeper mystery: to actively participate in the Divine work of Creation. However, it is not by accident that it is joined so intimately with the unitive aspect. That joining seems to me to elevate the latter to the same dignity of the former.

“Americans are known for generosity to your children. And what is the best gift you can give your children? I say to you: Give them brothers and sisters.”
– Bl. John Paul the Great

Paragraphs 17 and 59. I don’t mean to diminish the unitive aspect, however it is important to realize the simple reason and ultimate end for a thing’s existence. The secondary purposes exist because of the primary end, not independent of that end.

Well comfortable happy family is a vague term to begin with. If 2 or 3 kids is really what the couple can handle and beyond that would be an undue burden, the couple would have good reason to avoid having kids.

On the other hand, if there is no good reason and the real reason is the couple just is content and doesn’t want more, then that isn’t Christian, and its not what marriage is about according to the Church. So why have more kids (or at least not do anything to avoid having kids)? Because that is the duty of the married people to be open to life

Some thoughts on the above:

  • I understood one’s spouse to be a helpmate in all things, not just raising children, and this applies if there are no children;
  • If it is discovered, post-marriage, that one spouse is sterile (not known by anyone beforehand), is an annulment permitted?
  • The “obligation” to produce children can be inferred from the “rules” regarding NFP. Has the Church expressed this obligation elsewhere (other than “Go forth and multiply” in the Bible?).

In regard to the above:

It may be vague to an ‘outsider’, but not to the couple making the family decisions. The dictums in Genesis (about being fruitful etc.) are also vague in my view.

I struggle with the notion that there is an obligation to continue to have children (or at least, not avoid doing so), until you get to the point where one more would be an “undue burden” or “beyond the ability to cope”, or similar.

Looking at Casti Conubbi one will find no references to “Unitive” and “Procreative”. Pope Paul VI, in his encyclical Humanae Vitae (1968), used these terms, though I’m not sure if this is the first church teaching that used them.

Further, those words are being used to describe aspects of the way the marital act is to be enjoyed. Neither term goes to the issue of actively seeking to have children. Both are **equally **important, in that:

  • every act must be a loving, bond-enhancing coming together of the couple (“unitive”);
  • every act must be open to life, meaning engaged in a manner not preventing conception (“procreative”)

Pius XI was saying the primary purpose of marriage is for the creation and raising of children.

No. Unknown sterility does not impact the validity of the sacrament.

Couples must decide if they have just/serious reasons for preventing pregnancy. It doesn’t necessarily follow that one more will be “beyond the ability to cope.” Couples may already find themselves in a stressful position or feel they have serious reasons to limit children at the time being even if they could physically or financially handle another one without going bankrupt. Still, it would be good to remember that the purpose of marriage is ordered to the begetting and raising of new life. That’s one of the reasons God gave us our sexual organs and why we must reserve use of them for marriage. It’s logical to deduce that we should continue to use our sexuality for its intended purpose unless there are serious reasons not to.

Yes, I appreciate all that (except last sentence). I dont follow the reasoning that goes from the primary purpose of marriage is children, to the idea that we’re morally bound to keep on producing (subject to the “serious reasons” proviso)? I disagree that your last sentence is a logical deduction.

Yeah, I didn’t spend very much time developing that argument, did I?

To help me understand, are you suggesting couples ought to be able to use NFP for any reason they wish instead of just serious reasons? Or that couples should be able to use contraception? Or something else?

I think I need to clarify something, I’m not saying that the other elements of marriage by being secondary are somehow not real important or as good or anything like that! The mutual help of husband and wife in every way is of course an important part of marriage.
So being sterile is not grounds for annulment nor is it an impediment to marriage because there are secondary purposes.

According to my version of Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, the Holy Office rejected the assertion that mutual help was the primary purpose of marriage and reaffirmed the traditional teaching in 1944. It ranks this ordering of the purposes of marriage as theologically certain.

I understand the primary and secondary order of marriage goods to basically mean the primary is the reason for the thing’s existence or the ultimate end, and the secondary purpose to flow from the primary purpose…but to still be very important in every way.

The dictums in Genesis are vague, hence the Church and Her theologians attempt to clarify throughout history.

The idea behind the teaching is that marriage should be a selfless giving and always open to new life, as that is the calling of married people, to bring forth new life, new souls! On the other hand, at times an extra child would be an undue burden and thus NFP is justified.

Undue burden and beyond the ability to cope are different things. Undue burden could mean that the couple is struggling with finances at the time and one of the spouses is out of the house working long hours so they want to wait to have a child until a better time. Beyond the ability to cope would be like a pregnancy would be life threatening. I think there is a lot of area in between but both justify NFP

Initially, at least, I don’t see any reason these passages couldn’t still refer to an order of enumeration rather than of necessity. There does seem to be a pattern inasmuch that “primary” refers to a biological aspect common to all creatures while “secondary” refers to spiritual benefits. The biological aspect is certainly unique in that regard. Good friendships can approximate some of the spiritual benefits.

Humans, however, are not “bodies with spirits” in the sense that the body is more definitive than the spirit. Rather, we are body-spirit persons. Both aspects together make us what we are.

Occasionally, when discussing these matters, someone mentions the verse “what God has joined together, let no one separate”. Indeed, since God has seen fit to join together these aspects (procreative and unitive), it seems to me that He has imbued them with equal dignity and importance, just as He did with the original context of that verse, referring to husband and wife.

I’m not suggesting use of contraception. But I can’t see the difficulty with planning on a certain number of kids, getting to that point, confirming that we now feel our family is complete, and using periodic abstinence/NFP thereafter.

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