Contraception: Farther My God From Thee

Anthony Zimmerman
13 January 1993
Reproduced with Permission

Because God creates human life, because He has arranged that it be received and nurtured within the warm human ecology of a family, all matters which deal with human reproduction fall under the close scrutiny of the divine eyes. And God's close presence cannot but invite reverence from marital partners.

When Moses drew near God's presence in the burning bush, God admonished him to be mindful of his manners: "Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. ... I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Ex 3:5). Moses not only removed his sandals, but instinctively hid his face to shield it from direct exposure to God's sight; for Israelites a face to face meeting with God was a life threatening situation. When couples perform acts which God designed for procreation, they do well to respect God's immediate presence and so to mind their spiritual manners; sandals of contraception must be cast off when they stand on holy ground.

But God had not made Himself present to Moses to do harm; God proposed to Moses that he lead the Israelites out of the land of slavery and into the Land of Promise, "a good and expansive land, a land flowing with milk and honey" (Ex 3:8). To give Moses confidence, God promised: "I will be with you" Ex 3:11).

The same God comes to prospective parents, proposing to them joint action for a new life; He asks them to procreate with Him; He will fetch a new child from the abyss of chaos and nothingness to usher it into the sunburst of life, if only the parents agree to be a bridge for the child's passage out of nothingness. He pledges to be with them through the enterprise, bonding their union with His presence through the Sacrament of Matrimony.

Contraception, done in the dazzling presence of God during the marital act, cannot be other than incredible human insolence; by intervening to prevent God's act of creation, contraceptors, so to speak, presume to wrestle down God to prevent His action. They thumb their noses at His proposal, ignore His holiness, and pollute the marital union by a foul which prevents conception.

It is not possible, even for God, to delegate the work of creation to another, for example to the parents of the child. "It is impossible for any creature to create, either by its own power, or instrumentally - that is ministerially" (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 1,45,5). Parents may appear to give life to the child, but this new person cannot be created by any other than by God Himself, personally present with the parents.

Since God is the chief Procreator, it is He who takes the first and chief responsibility for the child's welfare. He cannot do other than design a wholesome human and spiritual ecological environment which is beneficial and supportative for the child's physical and spiritual welfare. The ecological environment best for the child is a family: man and wife bonded in lifelong union, who pledge to love each other and their children, who are resolved to observe God's commandments. For the sake of the child which God creates, God owed it to Himself to also create the proper environment for the child, which is the family designed for the child, designed also for the welfare of the parents. The creation of family life, then, was performed by God with full awareness of the needs of all its members, with infinite foresight, thoughtful planning, and divine excellence in its structure and function. God institutes family life in accordance with the goodness of eternal wisdom which "reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and ... ordains all things well" (Wis 8:1). The institution of the family is an extension God's creation; it can be said that God not only procreates the new child, but also the family into which the child is to be born, the milieu of family life, rich in human culture and in spiritual reverence for God.

Contraception: Slamming the Door in God's Face

Contraceptors can take little comfort from the thought that they might prevent God's presence if they prevent His creative work. By undertaking intercourse they perform an act which God designed as an invitation to Himself for procreation; when they use a contraceptive, they invite God with the right hand to come , but with the left hand they presume to shoo Him away. Humanae Vitae states God's rule that "each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life" (n. 11). A proper conjugal act, therefore, is a ritual established by God by which a couple automatically invites Him to join them in the action of procreating new life. The contraceptive is a pointed elbow to push Him away and to prevent Him from performing the work which their act invites Him to do. Marital intercourse is an ontological signal designed by itself to invite God's action; by using a contraceptive couples change the signal designed by God to procreate life; they ruin the signal, making it become a brazen counterfeit; God should stand by, they signal; but then they presume to tie His creating hands, making Him helpless and impotent insofar as they are able to do that. Contraception is a mock invitation for God to be present but to stand in the corner and do nothing.

But during all this time God is exceedingly humble, and allows ample scope for the play of human liberty and choice. As the Book of Wisdom describes His humility:

For it is always in your power to show great strength, and who can withstand the might of your arm? ... But you are merciful. to all, for you can do all things, and you overlook people's sins, so that they may repent (Wis 11:21;23).

God allows Himself to be left out in the cold, to be insulted, if humans so choose, as Mary and Joseph experienced on Christmas Eve. They knocked at doors asking urgently for shelter; but though the Son of God was about to show His face to the world, the innkeepers claimed they had no room. Perhaps Joseph had a fleeting thought like the sons of Boanerges, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" (Luke 9:54). But such was not the intention of the Holy one about to be born. He is humble beyond human expectations and comprehension. The Holy Family leaves when dis-invited. A Christmas jingle recreates the scene:

Who's at the door?
Two travelers, for the register.
What seek ye for?
A room, and she is due to bear.
Go away, you cannot stay,
no room for any babies here.

Contraceptors are conniving innkeepers. They pretend to do business with God, but slam the door in His face when He asks that they shelter a child which He offers to procreate.

The marital embrace and conception are one moment in God's way of keeping time.

By human reckoning, the time of intercourse and the moment of conception are not simultaneous; the one follows the other chronologically, maybe by hours, maybe by several days. But God does not measure time by human reckoning. The clock which marks the sequences of our minutes and hours is out of gear with timeless eternity, where a thousand years are the same as one day (cf. 2 Peter 3:8). From the chronological moment couples set a stopwatch for the inception of life by performing marital intercourse, they are overshadowed by God's presence; He pro-creates with them in a timeless duration of eternity. In God's way of counting time, the effect of conception is already reckoned as simultaneous with its cause, namely intercourse. That is why it can be said that God is immediately present from the moment couples begin to open the way to new life.

This Liturgy of Life by which parents procreate with God bears some semblance to the miracle of Transubstantiation when the priest whispers words which bring God's power into action. When the priest, speaking now in Persona Christi, says over the bread, "This is my Body," the Body of Christ becomes present at his bidding. When He says, "This is my blood," Christ again works our salvation through the mystic sacrifice. As we acclaim the Mystery of Faith, so do we also acclaim the Mystery of Life. In both miracles, God humbles Himself to bring to fruition by His almighty power what we humans initiate by humble human acts. Our first point, then, is that parents are obliged to be holy when they stand on the holy ground near God who proposes to create new life with them.

Furthermore, the duality of the sexes and the mysterious bonding between husband and wife are likewise due to God's creative work; it follows that humans, like Moses, must show reverence for the God who created them male and female, who also created the bond which forges the durable family circle. The act of intercourse by which man and woman "know" each other would be a demeaning invasion of another's privacy, and shameless exhibitionism, if not done in the context of faithful monogamy and of openness to life; but the development of that theme must be left to another time.

Can God Not Permit Contraception?

Humanae Vitae states, as we saw, that "each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life" (n. 11). Cardinal Ratzinger recently stated that this truth is difficult to understand outside the logic of a lived faith:

Clearly, it is ... difficult to make understood the teaching on birth control as expressed by Paul VI in Humanae Vitae. In point of fact, it must be considered less as a starting point than as a point of arrival. It can only be perceived in the context of a logic lived in faith, of a sexuality which is only truly human if it is open to the vocation of procreation and of life; if it respects the woman's biological rhythms and rejects every violent solution, because intervention in the conjugal relationship by pharmaceutical means is always a violence (Interview,The Catholic World Report, January 1993, p. 54).

According to the Cardinal's words, then, we must "live" the logic of the faith in order to understand it. As the wise man wrote: "If you desire wisdom, keep the commandments, and the Lord will lavish her upon you" (Sirach 1:26). And as the Psalmist sings: "Your command makes me wiser than my foes; for it is mine forever... I gain understanding from your precepts" (Ps 119:97; 104). We also know that massive disobedience to God can induce massive ignorance among the populace. Of the rebellious Israelites in the desert God said: "Forty years I endured that generation. I said, 'They are a people whose hearts go astray and they do not know my ways"' (Ps 95). Besides Moses and Aaron, only two among the Israelite multitude understood God's ways, Joshua and Caleb. Two among thousands! Less than one percent. Another example comes to mind of the ignorance of a populace, politically and socially induced, namely Arianism. A Saint Jerome lamented, in the year 360, that "the whole world groaned to find itself Arian."

That was only 35 years after the Ecumenical Council of Nicea had solemnly and infallibly condemned Arianism in 325. And today, after Humanae Vitae was issued in 1968, we can say: the whole world labors under a contraceptive mentality. As Qoheleth wrote:

"Is here anything of which it is said, 'See, this is new'? It has already been, in the ages before us. I perceived that this also is but a chasing after wind" (Eccl. 1:10;17).

In the meantime Arianism has passed off the stage of history. It was not even listed among the subjected treated at Vatican II.

Similarly, we hope and pray, the popular infatuation with contraception will not remain a lasting fixture in the living Church nor in the race. A robust practice and teaching of chastity will eventually be recognized as necessary for ecclesial and human welfare, and the natural methods will move into the mainstream position of family planning. Adveniat regnum. tuum!

Reflection and experience vindicate the ban on contraception

It is no secret that divorce, and all the agony that goes with it for both parties and for the children, is pandemic among contraceptors; whereas lifetime faithfulness is the general norm among users of natural family planning. NFP partners seldom divorce. All teachers, all records, tell this story.

The marital embrace is for both parties a raw and brutal exposure, whether to truth or to sham. Disgust follows the discovery that contraception is not truth but sham - much as "Amnon was seized with a very great loathing" for Tamar after he had raped her (2 Sam 13:15). The spiteful and insatiable hatred experienced by parties when their marriage breaks apart remains despite the open gates of no-fault divorce. In the long run, we trust, the resilient tendency of human couples to prefer truth to sham, to express and receive transparently honest communication in the marital embrace, will help them to sift the sham of contraception from the truth of natural family planning.

With a bit self examination, inspired perhaps by priests and teachers, spouses willing to reflect upon their experiences will discover by a sixth sense that contraception is a bull in a china shop if turned loose upon the divinely fashioned, finely tuned and balanced ecology of the marriage which God created. For God did not make marriage without thought and care; rather, He waited until He had fashioned all the rest of the universe, and only then did He concentrate His consummate love and infinite wisdom to make the human couple into a semblance of His own inner life.

Marriage created by God is His masterpiece of designed human relationships, featuring the human striving of the male and female persons to consolidate into a stable unity of dual polarization of male and female tensions. Marriage and the family are living art and science, manifesting God's glory in harmony with the universe of the created seas and land, rivers and mountains, the grasses, flowers and trees, the sun, moon, stars, the birds and fish, and the infinite variety of the animals bedecking our plains and forests. God made marriage to be possible, practical., tender, beautiful, successful, and holy. The nuptial fit of the physical bodies of male and female, the evident complementarity of masculine and feminine mind and sentiment, and the mysterious mutual attraction of the man for woman, and woman for man, are not accidental by-products of a blind evolution.

Contraception is utterly uncouth, uncultured, tasteless, senseless, crude, lacking art, finesse, thoughtfulness, discipline. Contraception pollutes and ruins totally the transparent purity of ecological marital love as it comes from the hands of God. The millions of Pill users who divorce point to contraception as the source of marital poison, as a Chernobyl nuclear meltdown out of control, spewing its deadly fumes over continents and seas, over Village Earth. The moral pollution spawned by contraception makes a cloaca out of God's work of art; partners flee by the millions from its stench. The deception inherent in contraceptive dis-communication has the smell of sulphur, whose smoke pours up through the floorboards of the bedroom rising out of the depths of hell. Honest couples cannot long endure exposure to a relationship which attempts to mix the beautiful truths of marriage which come from God, with the ugly and loathsome filth which the father of lies supplies through acts of contraception.

Also on the natural level, contraception robs the conjugal encounter of humanitarian richness and meaning. The Japanese nation, which promoted and practiced saturation contraception (mostly via condom) during the past four decades, now finds that women are not attracted to marriage as in previous generations; jobs and careers are becoming the preferred trend. A public opinion poll published in December 1992 by the Prime Minister's Office revealed that 54 percent of young women questioned said they would rather stay single, while only 13 percent said marriage made for happiness. The anti-marriage sentiment, coupled with the less than replacement birth rate is worrying authorities who look to Japan's future. My prediction is that if the nation survives through coming centuries, the surviving mainstream will pass through the bottleneck of a minority of families which have four and more children. This is an additional reason why the Church does well to stand by parents of large families to support and praise them (see e.g. GS 50), though at present this is "politically incorrect." Only a God who is infinitely intelligent and loving can design the masterpiece of creation, man and wife united in loving and fruitful marriage. And this God whispers to marriage partners: "Be holy as I am holy." Chastity in marriage has reasons of the heart which are only fleetingly perceptible to the mind. But God has given us a teacher to supply what is lacking in human capability, to supply wisdom where there is ignorance. "I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church" Mt 16:18.

Peter has spoken through Humanae Vitae, through Familiaris Consortio. To mutually appropriate this wisdom spoken by Peter is the best gift marriage partners can give to each other on their wedding day.