NFP- Just/grave/serious

This may only be semantics, or it could be a bigger deal than that.

The Catechism says this:
2368 A particular aspect of this responsibility concerns the regulation of procreation. For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood.

Yet I have heard many use the adjectives “serious” or “grave” reasons. Did this come from some documents?

Maybe this is semantics and they all mean the same thing, but my understanding of “just reasons” does not match “serious or grave” reasons.

So my question is:

  1. Is there a difference between “just” and “serious or grave”
  2. Where did the words “serious and grave” come from?
  3. Which one is right?
  1. I think there is not much difference between just and serious or grave. Serious and grave mean the same thing in moral theology and correspond to a very significant importance. Indeed, a serious or grave sin is a sin that kills the life within the soul. So, serious and grave pertain to the moral “weight” of an issue or act. “Just” on the other hand seems to pertain to a moral evaluation of sorts. In this case the married couple must make sure that their reasons are sufficient to be called “just.”

  2. The term “serious reason” comes directly from Humanae Vitae - “seriis causis”

  3. In a sense both are correct as the reasons for NFP must be “serious” (as Humanae Vitae) notes and also “just” as the Catechism notes. It’s interesting to note that the reference given in the Catechism for “just reasons” is to a passage in Gaudium et Spes, but the passage itself does not use the word “just.”

I think we should avoid any interpretation that attempts to paint “just” as “not that serious.” It is not as though the Catechism has changed the requirement that the reasons be “serious”.

The words are translations from another language. (Usually Latin, but I think the Catechism was originally written in French.) In trying to find the word in other documents just now I found the English translation in Humanae Vitae point 16 paragraph 2 commonly uses the word “serious” but I also found it translated as “well-grounded”. I know I’ve seen the word “grave” used also, but don’t remember which document or which translation.

"…If, then, there are serious motives to space out births, which derive from the physical or psychological conditions of husband and wife, or from external conditions, the Church teaches that it is then licit to take into account the natural rhythms immanent in the generative functions, for the use of marriage in the infecund periods only, and in this way to regulate birth without offending the moral principles which have been recalled earlier."

Here’s the Latin

Si igitur iustae adsint causae generationes subsequentes intervallandi, quae a coniugum corporis vel animi condicionibus, aut ab externis rerum adiunctis proficiscantur, Ecclesia docet, tunc licere coniugibus sequi vices naturales, generandi facultatibus immanentes, in maritali commercio habendo iis dumtaxat temporibus, quae conceptione vacent, atque adeo nasciturae proli ita consulere, ut morum doctrina, quam modo exposuimus, haudquaquam laedatur.

I don’t think it’s entirely just semantics to ponder what exactly the Church means. It’s clear that married couples should have some reason(significant/just/serious/grave/well grounded/whatever) to space births or avoid pregnancy. The Church doesn’t go into great detail defining the ____ reasons people can regulate birth, so we are left to reflect on what that means for us and our spouses in prayer.

Many seem to forget the little detail that the Church teaches we need a just/serious/grave/well grounded/whatever reason, and may think “because we don’t want another one” is a good enough reason to avoid another child. Many priests seem happy if couples use NFP instead of artificial contraception so they don’t question why a couple is avoiding. Some people mistakenly believe the Church “promotes” avoiding children through NFP, and that also adds to misunderstanding by people who use contraception.

I don’t think this is merely a question of semantics; I think this part of the Church teachings is not well defined or understood in modern English, so it is often overlooked or ignored.

Good post…

It’s interesting that the latin you quoted uses “iustae” which ought to be translated as “just” but that translated it as serious. The fact then that Humanae Vitae uses the words interchangably leads me to believe they are making the same point. Namely, that NFP cannot be used for any reason, it must be a “serious/just” reason which would be something of gravity or seriousness.

So does this beg the question, How serious is serious?

Does it mean avoiding a situation of detriment or is it merely “not hey-willy-nilly”

The church deliberately didn’t give a laundry list of the only alid reasons. It varies wildy depending on the circumstances of the person. It is never ‘intrinsically’ evil to use NFP to avoid pregnancy. However, it might be a moral wrong in and of itself to be avoiding having another child merely for a totally selfish reason. Thus, it IS one of those things that must be discerned, no universal list is possible.

Interestingly, NFP contains a built-in regulation against use for selfish reasons. Anybody who practices it already knows this. It is called the abstinence period! Believe me, if you have a healthy relationship, your very desires direct you to reassess your reasons monthly. :thumbsup:

Yes, the abstinance period can prompt the couple to ask themselves about their reasons for avoiding pregnancy. That’s when we may ask ourselves if we really need to be avoiding pregnancy and what does the Church mean by “serious/just/grave/etc”.

However, a couple points:

  1. Sexual desire during the time of abstinance can also prompt unchaste behavior. Some people may be tempted to use withdrawal, contraception, or non-precreative sexual acts (alone or with the spouse.) If using NFP prompts one or both to fall into other serious sexual sins, the couple may have a serious/just/grave reason not to use NFP.

  2. For those who never used NFP, they often don’t see the difference between methods of avoiding pregnancy except their perception of the effectiveness. They usually don’t understand the power of abstinance that prompts NFP couples to re-assess their reasons; instead they see NFP couples often have more children than others and conclude NFP doesn’t work. Those who promote NFP without mentioning that we need reasons to avoid pregnacy seem to be promoting Catholics to avoid children. Those who use contraception may falsely conclude that the Church is okay with Catholics avoiding children without reason.

  3. In my own personal experience of using contraception in the past, learning the Church teaching that we should have some reason to even use NFP woke me up from my complacency. ("What?!:eek: You mean I need a reason to even use that?! ") I learned of NFP previously, but it seemed like birth control for those who weren’t serious about birth control (since the only person who I ever heard speak pro-NFP had several children; see point #2) The *real *Church teachings taught me that avoiding children in marriage is serious business. It explained why those who followed Church teachings on NFP often had more children. And it brought a cohesiveness to the teachings of the Bible and of the Church because if reminded me of what I already knew in my heart: children are blessings and we should have a good reason if we ask God *not *to bless us.

Just a quick non-sequitor…

I always find it funny when you see the huge 15 passenger van filled with kids and a bumper sticker that says “Try NFP!” It seems to me, this is NOT good advertising for those who contracept and know nothing about NFP.

Interestingly, NFP contains a built-in regulation against use for selfish reasons. Anybody who practices it already knows this. It is called the abstinence period! Believe me, if you have a healthy relationship, your very desires direct you to reassess your reasons monthly.

Isn’t this the truth! I’ve seen situations where the abstinence was no problem at all because one spouse was busy carrying on with someone else and the marriage was so flimsy that the abstinence was a sign that the marriage was too shaky for another child to begin with.

I agree with the bumper sticker on the busload of kids. For those who don’t understand, it can become a joke. It is hard even to make my own children understand that when one lives in accord with God’s will, one’s heart changes and priorities change and more children becomes more important than bigger fancier cars and better clothes. I personally think the name is deceptive. They should call it No Surprises Here because everyone knows when they are taking risks with Phase II behavior. And they know they are dancing on a tightrope. Unlike ABC where there are truly MANY surprises.

Except for the fact that it would just be too much information to share with total strangers, I’m sometimes tempted to print up a t-shirt or bumpersticker that says

[sign]NFP Works!!!
We decided to have eight kids!!![/sign]

As far as just/grave/serious goes-- it’s such a tricky call to make. I know I’ve posted it elsewhere, but imho, the two virtues that really come into play in this decision are prudence and generosity. Weighing those two in my prayer (and my dh too) usually show us pretty clearly if we have reason to postpone or not.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit