Against the Fathers

The Catholic Church has always opposed contraception from its very beginning. In fact, it has been the heretical groups like the Gnostics (2nd century), the Manichaeans (4th century) and the Cathari (12th century) who opposed Christianity’s teachings on this subject. Here is a selection of citations from the early Church Fathers right down to John Paul II which reaffirm the wickedness of contraception.


  • “Moreover, he [Moses] has rightly detested the weasel [Lev. 11:29]. For he means, ‘Thou shalt not be like to those whom we hear of as committing wickedness with the mouth with the body through uncleanness [orally consummated sex]; nor shalt thou be joined to those impure women who commit iniquity with the mouth with the body through uncleanness.”  (Letter of Barnabas, 10:8, 74 A.D.)
  • “…there are they who persecute the good — lovers of a lie, not knowing the reward of righteousness, not cleaving to the good nor to righteous judgment, watching not for the good but for the bad, from whom meekness and patience are afar off, loving things that are vain, following after recompense, having no compassion on the needy, nor labouring for him that is in trouble, not knowing him that made them, murderers of children, corrupters of the image of God, who turn away from him that is in need, who oppress him that is in trouble, unjust judges of the poor, erring in all things. From all these, children, may ye be delivered.” (The Didache, 5:2, 100 A.D.) This document is a first century summary of the teachings of the teachings of the Apostles for the catechumens. It is talking about the destruction of human life by ancient contraceptives (pharmakeia) and abortion (“child-murderers”).
  • “But whether we marry, it is only that we may bring up children; or whether we decline marriage, we live continently. And that you may understand that promiscuous intercourse is not one of our mysteries, one of our number a short time ago presented to Felix the governor in Alexandria a petition, craving that permission might be given to a surgeon to make him an eunuch. For the surgeons there said that they were forbidden to do this without the permission of the governor. And when Felix absolutely refused to sign such a permission, the youth remained single, and was satisfied with his own approving conscience, and the approval of those who thought as he did.” (St. Justin Martyr, Apologia, 1.29, 150 A.D.)
  • “Therefore, having the hope of eternal life, we despise the things of this life, even to the pleasures of the soul, each of us reckoning her his wife whom he has married according to the laws laid down by us, and that only for the purpose of having children. For as the husbandman throwing the seed into the ground awaits the harvest, not sowing more upon it, so to us the procreation of children is the measure of our indulgence in appetite.”(St. Athenagoros, Legatio pro Christianis, 33, 176 A.D.).
  • “Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted.” (St. Clement of Alexandria, Paedogogus, 2:10:91:2, 191 A.D.)
  • “[Christian women with male concubines], on account of their prominent ancestry and great property, the so-called faithful want no children from salves or lowborn commoners, they use drugs of sterility [oral contraceptives] or bind themselves tightly in order to expel fetus which has already been engendered [abortion].” (St. Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, 9:12, 225 A.D.)
  • “And I see that you at one time expose your begotten children to wild beasts and to birds; at another, that you crush them when strangled with a miserable kind of death. There are some women who, by drinking medical preparations extinguish the source of the future man in their very bowels, and thus commit a parricide before they bring forth.” (Marcus Minucius Felix Octavius 30.2, 230 A.D.)
  • “Wherefore, if any one on any account of poverty shall be unable to bring up children, it is better to abstain from relations with his wife.” (Lactantius, Divine Institutes, 6:20, 307 A.D.)
  • “If a man has been mutilated [sterilized] by physicians during sickness,or by barbarians, he may remain among the clergy; but if a man in good health has mutilated [sterilized] himself, he must resign his post after the matter has been proved among the clergy, and in the future no one who has thus acted should be ordained.”  (Council of Nicea, Canon 1, 325 A.D.)
  • “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, Divinae Institutiones, 6.20.25, 350 A.D.)
  • “They [certain Egyptian heretics] exercise genital acts, yet prevent the conceiving of children.  Not in order to produce offspring, but to satisfy lust, are they eager for corruption.” (St. Epiphanius, Medicine Chest Against the Heretics, 26:5:2, 375 A.D.)
  • “Why do you sow where the field is eager to destroy the fruit, where there are medicines of sterility [oral contraceptives], where there is murder before birth?  You do not even let a harlot remain only a harlot, but you make her a murderess as well…Indeed, it is something worse than murder, and I do not know what to call it; for she does not kill what is formed but prevents its formation.  What then?  Do you condemn the gift of God and fight with his [natural] laws? (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans, 24, 391 A.D.) 
  • “You may see a number of women who are widows before they are wives.  Others, indeed, will drink sterility [oral contraceptives] and murder a man not yet born…” (St. Jerome, Letters 21:13, 396 A.D.)
  • “For thus the eternal law; that is, the will of God creator of all creatures, taking counsel for the conservation of natural order, not to serve lust, but to see the preservation of the race, permits the delight of  mortal flesh to be released from the control of reason in copulation only to propagate progeny.” (St. Augustine, Against Faustus, 22:30, 400 A.D.)
  • “Who is he who cannot warn that no woman may take a potion [an oral contraceptive or an abortifacient] so that she is unable to conceive or condemns in herself the nature which God willed to be fecund?” (Caesarius, Sermons, 1:12, 522 A.D.) 
  • “Again, in the very beginning of the Christian Church were repulsed and defeated, with the like unremitting determination, the efforts of many who aimed at the destruction of Christian marriage, such as the Gnostics, Manichaeans, and Montanists; and in our own time Mormons, St. Simonians, phalansterians, and communists.” (Pope Leo XIII, Arcanum Divinae Sapientiae, 13 1880 A.D.) (As stated above, it has been the heretical groups like the Gnostics (2nd century), the Manichaeans (4th century) and the Cathari (12th century) who opposed the Christianity’s teachings on this subject. This is what the Pope is referring to in this citation.)

Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii:

“Nor did Christ Our Lord wish only to condemn any form of polygamy or polyandry, as they are called, whether successive or simultaneous, and every other external dishonorable act, but, in order that the sacred bonds of marriage may be guarded absolutely inviolate, He forbade also even willful thoughts and desires of such like things: “But I say to you, that whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her hath already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Which words of Christ Our Lord cannot be annulled even by the consent of one of the partners of marriage for they express a law of God and of nature which no will of man can bend or break. (21)

  • Armed with these principles, some men go so far as to concoct new species of unions, suited, as they say, to the present temper of men and the times, which various new forms of matrimony they presume to label “temporary,” “experimental,” and “companionate.” These offer all the indulgence of matrimony and its rights without, however, the indissoluble bond, and without offspring, unless later the parties alter their cohabitation into a matrimony in the full sense of the law. (51)
  • And now, Venerable Brethren, We shall explain in detail the evils opposed to each of the benefits of matrimony. First consideration is due the offspring, which many have the audacity to call the disagreeable burden of matrimony and which they say is to be carefully avoided by married people not through virtuous continence (which Christian law permits in matrimony when both parties consent) but by frustrating the marriage act. Some justify this criminal abuse on the ground that they are weary of children and wish to gratify their desires without their consequent burden. Others say that they cannot on the one hand remain continent nor on the other can they have children because of the difficulties, whether on the part of the mother or on the part of family circumstances. (53)
  • But no reason, however grave, may be put forward by anything intrinsically against nature may become conformable to nature and morally good. Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose, sin against nature, and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious. (54)
  • Small wonder, therefore, if Holy Writ bears witness that the Divine Majesty regards with greatest detestation this horrible crime, and at times has punished it with death. As St. Augustine notes, “Intercourse even with one’s legitimate wife is unlawful and wicked where the conception of the offspring is prevented. Onan, the son of Judah, did this and the Lord killed him for it.” (55)
  • Since, therefore, openly departing from the uninterrupted Christian tradition, some recently have adjudged it possible solemnly to declare another doctrine regarding this question, the Catholic Church, to whom God has entrusted the defense of the integrity and the purity of morals, standing erect in the midst of the moral ruin which surrounds her, in order that she may preserve the chastity of the nuptial union from being defiled by this foul stain, raises her voice in token of her divine ambassadorship and through Our mouth proclaims anew: any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.” (56)

Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, 14:

  • “Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary. Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means. Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one, or that such intercourse would merge with procreative acts of past and future to form a single entity, and so be qualified by exactly the same moral goodness as these. Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good,” it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it —in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general. Consequently, it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong.

Pope John Paul II on Contraception – Selected References in Chronological Order: (cited courtesy of Msgr. Foy’s research)

Under the heading “Contraception,” the Pope said at Limerick, Ireland in Sept. 1979: “And here, I want to say a very special word to all Irish parents. Marriage must include openness to the gift of children. Generous openness to accept children from God as the gift to their love is the mark of the Christian couple. Respect the God-given cycle of life, for this respect is part of our respect for God himself, who created male and female, who created them in his own image, reflecting his own life-giving love in the patterns of their sexual being.”

  • To the bishops of the Episcopal Conference of the U.S. at Chicago on Oct. 8, 1979, the Pope said: “In exalting the beauty of marriage you rightly spoke against both the ideology of contraception and contraceptive acts, as did the Encyclical Humanae Vitae. And I myself today, with the same conviction of Paul VI, ratify the teaching of this encyclical, which was put forth by my Predecessor “by virtue of the mandate entrusted to us by Christ” (AAS, 60, 1968, p.485)
  • In speaking to a French group in Nov. 3, 1979, the Holy Father emphasized that conjugal love involves a totality of self-giving. He said: “It aims at a deeply personal unity, the unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and one soul; it demands indissolubility and faithfulness in definitive mutual giving; and it is open to fertility.” (Cf. HV, 9).
  • On June 7, 1980, to a group of Indonesian bishops, His Holiness said: “In the question of the Church’s teaching on the regulation of birth we are called to profess in union with the whole Church the exigent but uplifting teaching recorded in the Encyclical, HUMANAE VITAE, which my Predecessor Paul VI put forth “by virtue of the mandate entrusted to us by Christ” (AAS 60, 1968, p.485). Particularly in this regard we must be conscious of the fact that God’s wisdom supersedes human calculations and His grace is powerful in people’s lives.”
  • Emphasizing that artificial contraception is intrinsically evil the Pope taught in 1983 (Cf. L’Osservatore Romano, Oct. 10, 1983): “At the origin of every human person there is a creative act of God. No man comes into existence by chance; he is always the object of God’s creative love. From this fundamental truth of faith and reason it follows that the procreative capacity, inscribed in human sexuality is – in its deepest truth – a cooperation with God’s creative power. And it also follows that man and woman are not arbiters, are not the masters of this same capacity, called as they are, in it and through it, to be participants in God’s creative decision. When, therefore, through contraception, married couples remove from the exercise of their conjugal sexuality its potential procreative capacity, they claim a power which belongs solely to God: the power to decide in a final analysis the coming into existence of a human person. They assume the qualification not of being cooperators in God’s creative power, but the ultimate depositaries of the source of human life. In this perspective, contraception is to be judged objectively so profoundly unlawful, as never to be, for any reason, justified. To think or to say the contrary is equal to maintaining that in human life, situations may arise in which it is lawful not to recognize God as God.”
  • In the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, (Nov. 22, 1981) on the role of the family in the modern world, Pope John Paul II taught: “When couples, by means of recourse to contraception, separate these two meanings that God the Creator has inscribed in the being of man and woman and in the dynamism of their sexual communion, they act as “arbiters” of the divine plan and they “manipulate” and degrade human sexuality – and with it themselves and their married partner – by altering its value of “total” self-giving. Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality.” (32)
  • In the encyclical Veritatis Splendor (Aug. 6, 1993) the Pope reaffirms the intrinsic evil of contraception as taught by Pope Paul VI: “With regard to intrinsically evil acts, and in reference to contraceptive practices whereby the conjugal act is intentionally rendered infertile, Pope Paul VI teaches: ‘Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good, it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (cf. Rom.3:8) – in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general.'” (80)
  • In his Letter to Families, signed on Feb. 2, 1994, the Holy Father says: “In particular, responsible fatherhood and motherhood directly concern the moment in which a man and a woman, uniting themselves ‘in one flesh’, can become parents. This is a moment of special value both for their interpersonal relationship and for their service to life: they can become parents – father and mother – by communicating life to a new human being. The two dimensions of conjugal union, the unitive and the procreative, cannot be artificially separated without damaging the deepest truth of the conjugal act itself…This is the constant teaching of the Church, and the ‘signs of the times’ which we see today are providing new reasons for forcefully reaffirming that teaching. Saint Paul, himself so attentive to the pastoral demands of his day, clearly and firmly indicated the need to be ‘urgent in season and out of season’ (cf. 2 Tim.4:2), and not to be daunted by the fact that ‘sound teaching is no longer endured’ (cf. 2 Tim.4:3). His words are well known to those who with deep insight into the events of the present time, expect that the Church will not only not abandon ‘sound doctrine’ but will proclaim it with renewed vigour, seeking in today’s ‘signs of the times’ the incentive and insights which can lead to a deeper understanding of her teaching.” (12)
  • “But the negative values inherent in the “contraceptive mentality”-which is very different from responsible parenthood, lived in respect for the full truth of the conjugal act-are such that they in fact strengthen this temptation when an unwanted life is conceived. Indeed, the pro- abortion culture is especially strong precisely where the Church’s teaching on contraception is rejected. Certainly, from the moral point of view contraception and abortion arespecifically different evils: the former contradicts the full truth of the sexual act as the proper expression of conjugal love, while the latter destroys the life of a human being; the former is opposed to the virtue of chastity in marriage, the latter is opposed to the virtue of justice and directly violates the divine commandment “You shall not kill”.
  • But despite their differences of nature and moral gravity, contraception and abortion are often closely connected, as fruits of the same tree. It is true that in many cases contraception and even abortion are practised under the pressure of real- life difficulties, which nonetheless can never exonerate from striving to observe God’s law fully. Still, in very many other instances such practices are rooted in a hedonistic mentality unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality, and they imply a self-centered concept of freedom, which regards procreation as an obstacle to personal fulfilment. The life which could result from a sexual encounter thus becomes an enemy to be avoided at all costs, and abortion becomes the only possible decisive response to failed contraception.
  • The close connection which exists, in mentality, between the practice of contraception and that of abortion is becoming increasingly obvious. It is being demonstrated in an alarming way by the development of chemical products, intrauterine devices and vaccines which, distributed with the same ease as contraceptives, really act as abortifacients in the very early stages of the development of the life of the new human being.” (Evangelium Vitae, 13, 1995 A.D.)
  • “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. Moreover, they should conform their behavior to the objective criteria of morality:
    • When it is a question of harmonizing married love with the responsible transmission of life, the morality of the behavior does not depend on sincere intention and evaluation of motives alone; but it must be determined by objective criteria, criteria drawn from the nature of the person and his acts criteria that respect the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love; this is possible only if the virtue of married chastity is practiced with sincerity of heart.” (Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, 51, 1965 A.D. ) [Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2368, 1997 A.D.]
  • “Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil… (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2370, 1997 A.D.)

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