The marriage of Joseph and Mary

Super Flumina

under the patronage of St Joseph and St Dominic

By the rivers of Babylon there we sat and wept, remembering Zion;
on the poplars that grew there we hung up our harps. . . Ps 136

St Dominic


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11th September 2001


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Download this document as a word document

No one brings himself into existence. Nor does he keep himself in existence. Nor can he say what his length of life will be. No one gives himself his human nature—his essence. Not only our existence—that we are—but our very essence—what we are—is given to us. These issues, summarised in St Paul’s rhetorical question—What have you that you have not received?––confront every man, no matter whether he profess to be religious or irreligious; whether he be Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim or a follower of another religion; or whether he be agnostic or atheist. Indeed, the very air we breathe is given to us.

If there is a giving; there must be a giver. There must be an Author of our being. And since nothing comes from nothing, and more does not come from less, the Author must himself be intellectual. And if the Author is intellectual, it is entirely reasonable that he would reveal himself to his intellectual creatures.

So has Almighty God revealed himself to man. First, he revealed himself to his chosen people, the Jews. Then, as St Paul says (Hebrews 1: 1), in the fullness of time, he revealed himself to all men through His Son, Jesus Christ––as one God but three persons, generating and generated, breathing together in mutual love. And that that revelation might be brought home to every generation after his death, resurrection and ascension into heaven, Christ established a church—the Catholic Church. That Church is Christ’s creation. He is its head. This is God’s Church. The Church that God established.

Human Nature And Its Powers

Concomitant with the nature which has been given to us—intellectual/rational with free will to choose our own ends—are its proper powers and the acts of those powers. Implicit in our human nature also is the end to which we are ordered. As rational creatures, we are responsible for the way in which we exercise these powers. Human laws forbidding theft, murder, lying, dishonesty and sexual immorality are simply a reflection of the law which Almighty God has placed in the hearts of all men and which are exemplified in the Ten Commandments found in the Book of Exodus. We are not our own, much as we might like to think so. God created us, and to God we shall return.

There is an ordination in us in virtue of our nature. All ordination, as Aristotle said, is unto some end. There is an order put in us by the Author of our being according to which we must operate in the natural physical order, and according to which we should operate in the natural moral order, at the peril of our failing to achieve that end for which we were made. So are we limited in respect of the exercise of that most important function by which each human person is brought into existence, the act of sexual intercourse.

The End To Which Intercourse Is Ordained

There is an order put into the act of intercourse as there is, also, in the power whereby we are able to perform that act. Both are ordered unto an end which is the bringing into the world of the new human person, the child. That end dictates the setting in which alone the act is licitly exercised, namely, one in which the child is not only brought into existence, but also trained and educated in the certainty and security which is essential to enable him to achieve the infinite potential he is given as a human being. That end may only be achieved in marriage, the stable, life long, mutual commitment of one man and one woman to each other. This conclusion, arrived at rationally, is confirmed by God Himself, the author of our being, through the teaching of His Son, Jesus Christ (Matthew 19: 6).

Marriage And Contraception

Marriage is not a contract invented by man, but a social institution created––concomitantly with his creation of man and woman––by God ‘from the beginning’ (Matthew 19: 4-6). It is an institution in which the spouses have mutual responsibilities of generosity towards each other. Any selfishness on the part of one or of both tends to the destruction of their marriage. Contraception, whether practised by one or by both spouses is destructive of their marriage because it is an act of selfishness, of unwillingness to face the reality of the state they have embraced and all that it entails.

The act of intercourse is ordered towards reproduction. That ordination is placed in it by God. Any use of the act which renders it incapable of achieving its end, that is, contraception, is then, eo ipso, morally evil.

Marriage is a public act and society is rightly concerned over its regulation. The spouses to every marriage have a responsibility to society and society, in its turn, is bound to support and to protect marriage and those who are married. Society is bound to condemn contraception for the interference it entails to the institution of marriage.

The evil of contraception can take any number of forms. Among them, the tri phasic contraceptive pill has the additional evil that it is also an abortifacient.

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council addressed the need for prudence in marriage. Married couples, they said, should realize that they are… cooperating with the love of God the Creator, and are, so to speak, its interpreters .This involves the fulfilment of their task with a sense of human and Christian responsibility and the formation of correct judgements through docile reverence towards God, common counsel and effort. It also involves a consideration of their own welfare and that of their children, those already born and those which the future may bring, an ability to read the signs of the times and of their own situation on the material and spiritual level and finally, an estimation of the good of the family, of society and of the Church. [Gaudium et Spes n. 50]

A married couple may use the infertile periods in the female reproductive cycle in an endeavour to avoid the conception of a child. Indeed, prudence may demand that they do so for the sake of their own welfare and that of their children. The Council Fathers, noting that marriage was not instituted solely for procreation, went on to say––[I ]ts very nature as an unbreakable compact between persons, and the welfare of the children, both demand that the mutual love of the spouses be embodied in a rightly ordered manner, that it grow and ripen. [Ibid]

In using the infertile periods in the female reproductive cycle, the spouses use licit means. What matters is that they do not use them for an illicit end. The engagement in such a practice without adequate reason is itself illicit. What matters here is not what they do, but why they do it.

The Contraceptive Mentality And Its Consequences

The flourishing of the contraceptive mentality in western civilised society had its inception in the decision of the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church in 1930 sanctioning such behaviour. Prior to that decision there was no allegedly Christian religion or sect which tolerated contraception. Now there is hardly one which does not embrace its poison.

The evil of contraception, engaged in systematically, engenders a hardness of heart in those involved. It inclines them to view abortion at least with equanimity, if not with favour, because abortion has the same end as contraception, the avoidance of the natural consequences of the act of intercourse.

If the sex act is not tied to the reproduction of children, its only imperative is the pleasure which is its accompaniment. It follows logically that one may indulge in sex outside marriage, whether in accordance with nature (in adultery or fornication) or against nature (in masturbation, or in homosexual or other unnatural acts). Other evils, such as pornography and pederasty, follow inevitably.

The contraceptive mentality has thus brought in its train the diminution of the status of the institution of marriage with the elevation to a similar level of a species of concubinage. It has brought, likewise, a qualified acceptance of sexually aberrant behaviour even to bringing in legal recognition of the consequences of such behaviour and, in some cases, of the behaviour itself.

But more, the contraceptive mentality has led to a community insensitivity and blindness to the evil of abortion and to the moral illicitness of that other interference in human reproduction constituted by in vitro fertilisation. There has followed inevitably the abomination of experimentation on human embryos for the alleged good of humanity. Thus the contraceptive mentality has led to the acceptance of evils which are worse than slavery and which parallel in their fashion the very evils for which the Nazis were universally condemned just sixty years ago.

Difficulties In Marriage

None of this teaching on contraception contradicts the demands of charity. This Conference acknowledges that there may be great difficulties confronting many married couples especially where husband and wife are not ad idem about the need for adherence to the laws of God. But such difficulties do not entail impossibility of conforming to those laws—for God never commands the impossible.

Financial Difficulties

Foremost among the difficulties confronting married couples, especially those who are young, are financial difficulties brought about by the enormous expense there is in many places throughout this country in purchasing a home and by a rapacious financial system which seems to punish rather than to reward thrift and which, moreover, allows speculators, money lenders and others engaged in usury in one form or another, to profit at the expense of the weak and the indigent.

Additionally, problems are caused by an ethos which not only tolerates, but positively encourages, levels of gambling which are damaging to the human psyche. Rather than rely on legitimate sources of revenue, many State governments have built into their fiscal systems a reliance on this evil to fund their activities. The harm to families, and in particular, to children, of this conduct is incalculable. In doing so, these governments encourage habits which tend to grow with repetition and in many constitute a vice which is nigh on impossible to control.

Aberrant Priests

No priest, whether as counsellor or confessor, may under any circumstances, counsel or approve, any contraceptive act because to do so would be to pretend to authorise the doing of something intrinsically evil. Any priest who engages, or who may have engaged, in such conduct in the past, deserves to be reprimanded and his faculties to hear confessions and to give absolution suspended. Any priest who has so conducted himself in this way is bound to make systematic reparation for the misuse of the high office to which he has been called, for the grave sins involved and for the harm his conduct has occasioned to those he has so counselled.

This condemnation extends a fortiori to any bishop who may have engaged in such conduct. Since he is a descendant of the Apostles, enjoys the fulness of the priesthood and is a leader of the Catholic Church, his bad example must have more damaging effect and he must bear a greater burden of guilt.

Earlier Faulty Statement By The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, as it was then constituted, issued a pastoral letter in 1974 on the teaching of His Holiness Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae which was erroneous in that it pretended to elevate individual conscience above the religious submission of mind and will owed to the Pope’s teaching. The teaching in that document was hardly corrected in a subsequent directive issued in September 1976 and, in any event, the correction was never adequately published and has been effectively suppressed ever since. This Statement is to be taken as revoking any utterance previously issued by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference on the subject of Contraception.

This Conference reprehends the errors that the conduct of its previous members may have allowed, or encouraged by the erroneous teaching cited above and offers apologies on behalf of the Catholic Church for their conduct for all those who have been affected by their conduct.

Committee To Advise On Financial Difficulties

This Conference will establish a committee of its members with experts to advise on approaches which may be taken by the Catholic Church to assist young couples facing financial difficulties in order to obviate recourse to contraception. This committee will be required to report to the Conference its findings within six months of the date of this Statement.

Final Remarks

We must live in accordance with the truth. Truth is the identity between what is asserted and what is. It is not the identity of what is with how I feel. It matters not that an individual should disagree with this teaching, nor does it matter that a majority should disagree with it. Truth is not established by a vote. If a majority should disagree with this teaching they do so primarily because of an ignorance of principle, an ignorance connived at, whether wilfully or negligently, by those with the duty to educate, by those with control of the media and by those charged with the moral wellbeing of the community. Were the people once apprised of the principles, without obfuscation, they could not do otherwise than embrace them because our minds are made for truth, since we are made by Truth Himself.