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Archive for November 8th, 2005

Church Fathers and Contraception

While many conservative, evangelical, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians affirm the evil of abortion, fewer of those who condemn the practice of abortion also understand the problem of contraceptive practices. I present here a handful of quotes from the Church Fathers on the topic.

First, from St. John Chrysostom. Many passages in the Fathers link contraception to abortion, as does this one:

Why sow where the ground makes it its care to destroy the fruit? where there are many efforts at abortion? where there is murder before the birth? for even the harlot thou dost not let continue a mere harlot, but makest her a murderess also. You see how drunkenness leads to whoredom, whoredom to adultery, adultery to murder; or rather to a something even worse than murder. For I have no name to give it, since it does not take off the thing born, but prevent its being born. Why then dost thou abuse the gift of God, and fight with His laws, and follow after what is a curse as if a blessing, and make the chamber of procreation a chamber for murder, and arm the woman that was given for childbearing unto slaughter? St. John Chrysostom, Homily 24 on the Epistle to the Romans (emphasis added)

St. John also talks about the consequences of greed and materialism, and the desire to be childless:

Yet is the covetous man much more fierce even than this, assailing all like hell, swallowing all up, going about a common enemy to the race of men. Why, he would have no man exist, that he may possess all things. And he stops not even at this, but when in his longing he shall have destroyed all men, he longs also to mar the substance of the earth, and to see it all become gold; nay, not the earth only, but hills also, and woods, and fountains, and in a word all things that appear.

And to convince you that not even yet have we set forth his madness, let there be no man to accuse and frighten him, but take away the terror of the laws in supposition awhile, and thou wilt see him snatching up a sword, laying violent hands on all, and sparing none; neither friend, nor kinsman, nor brother, nor even his very parent. Nay rather, in this case there is not even need of supposing, but let us ask him, if he is not for ever framing to himself such imaginations, and if he does not in thought range among all men to destroy them; both friends and kinsmen, and even his very parents. Nay rather there is no need even to ask, because in truth all men know that they who are under the power of this disease are wearied even of their father’s old age; and that which is sweet, and universally desirable, the having children, they esteem grievous and unwelcome: many at least with this view have even paid money to be childless, and have maimed their nature, not only by slaying their children after birth, but by not suffering them even to be born at all. St. John Chrysostom, Homily 28 on Matthew 5(emphasis added)

St. Jerome speaks of “chemical contraception,” but once again in a linkage with abortion:

Some go so far as to take potions, that they may insure barrenness, and thus murder human beings almost before their conception. Some, when they find themselves with child through their sin, use drugs to procure abortion, and when (as often happens) they die with their offspring, they enter the lower world laden with the guilt not only of adultery against Christ but also of suicide and child murder. St. Jerome, Letter XXII:13. To Eustochium (emphasis added)

I have also collected several citations of the Church Fathers on abortion at this link: The Church Fathers and Ancient Councils on Abortion

Note what Lactantius says about those who expose their children because “they cannot afford them”:

Therefore let no one imagine that even this is allowed, to strangle newly-born children, which is the greatest impiety; for God breathes into their souls for life, and not for death. But men, that there may be no crime with which they may not pollute their hands, deprive souls as yet innocent and simple of the light which they themselves have not given. Can any one, indeed, expect that they would abstain from the blood of others who do not abstain even from their own? But these are without any controversy wicked and unjust. What are they whom a false piety compels to expose their children? Can they be considered innocent who expose their own offspring as a prey to dogs, and as far as it depends upon themselves, kill them in a more cruel manner than if they had strangled them? Who can doubt that he is impious who gives occasion for the pity of others? For, although that which he has wished should befall the child — namely, that it should be brought up — he has certainly consigned his own offspring either to servitude or to the brothel? But who does not understand, who is ignorant what things may happen, or are accustomed to happen, in the case of each sex, even through error? For this is shown by the example of OEdipus alone, confused with twofold guilt. It is therefore as wicked to expose as it is to kill. But truly parricides complain of the scantiness of their means, and allege that they have not enough for bringing up more children; as though, in truth, their means were in the power of those who possess them, or God did not daily make the rich poor, and the poor rich. Wherefore, if any one on account of poverty shall be unable to bring up children, it is better to abstain from marriage than with wicked hands to mar the work of God. Lactantius, Divine Institutes, Book VI.20 (emphasis added)

Note what St. Cyril of Jerusalem says regarding the emphasizing of the pleasurable aspects of sex at the expense of the procreative:

But let those also be of good cheer, who being married use marriage lawfully; who make a marriage according to God’s ordinance, and not of wantonness for the sake of unbounded license; who recognise seasons of abstinence, that they may give themselves unto prayer; who in our assemblies bring clean bodies as welt as clean garments into the Church; who have entered upon matrimony for the procreation of children, but not for indulgence. Catechetical Lectures 4.25 (emphasis added)

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