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I understand that the original commandment to be fruitful and multiply involves reproduction. However, planning to wait a little bit here and there seems reasonable enough.

So, what is the reasoning or the basis from which the Catholic Church teaches that any artificial birth control is immoral/sinful?

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You might want to say "any artificial birth control is sinful." The rhythm method (approved by the Catholic Church) is a method of birth control. –  rajah9 Nov 16 '11 at 13:30
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@rajah9 hate to nitpick a comment, but it's not the rhythm method, that's a fairly irresponsible and unscientific way of going about things. It's Natural Family Planning, more info (on that and the Church's teaching) at onemoresoul.com –  Peter Turner Nov 16 '11 at 14:08
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@Peter: That site has some fundamental flaws in its information. Like the claim that a condom isn't an effective barrier against HIV because it's full of holes. It's pretty easy to demonstrate that you can inflate a condom with air, or use it to store water, both of which are tiny molecules compared to the HIV virus. Also, that site claims that NFP has a success rate of up to 99.7% but that condoms are only as good as 70% effective. That is purely laughable. They are clearly taking idealized statistics for NFP and pathological worst-case scenarios for condoms. TL;DR: Don't trust that site. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Nov 17 '11 at 3:47
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Sorry, forgot abstinence. That is a form of birth control that is also approved by the Catholic Church. It is 100% effective and also prevents the transmission of STDs. –  rajah9 Nov 17 '11 at 4:29
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@rajah9, Beyond the similarities that allow both rhythm and NFP to be placed in the basic genus of "periodic abstinence" (i.e., not having sex when you think pregnancy is likely to result) -- the two methods are vastly different. Rhythm makes assumptions about the female body that just aren't true for many many women. NFP uses real-time observation of the body to pinpoint a window of fertility very accurately. –  Ben Dunlap Dec 20 '11 at 20:35

2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Since sexual intercourse is the defining act of marriage, it's helpful to look at what the Catholic Church says about marriage. Traditionally, Catholic theologians have identified three purposes of marriage, which I present here in no particular order:

  • Mutual help of the spouses (which I believe has developed more recently into the notion of the union of the spouses)
  • Procreation and education of children
  • Relief of concupiscence

Generally speaking, I think the prohibition of artificial birth control follows from the principle that married couples should use their sexuality in a way that always respects all three of the basic purposes of marriage. But the use of artificial birth control implies the ordering of a particular act of sexual intercourse in such a way that it is intrinsically incapable of procreation. Before he was Pope John Paul II, Karol Wojtyla argued further, in Love and Responsibility: that choosing to withhold one's fertility in sex is also to work against the unity of the spouses.

All told then, the Catholic philosophical view could be summed up thus: artificial birth control makes marriage one-dimensional, by deliberately limiting its defining act to the service of the least noble of the three purposes of marriage.

Plenty of objections arise on the way from the principle to the conclusion, of course -- particularly in the articulation of how abstinence-based methods can be morally legitimate while artificial methods and sterilization cannot -- but I'm not sure if this is the right venue for considering and responding to all of those.

One thing I'd like to try to clear up, though, if I might. In your question you said:

However, planning to wait a little bit here and there seems reasonable enough.

Of course, and this is precisely what the Catholic Church teaches, at least as I understand it. The clearest official statement of this point that I've seen is Gaudium et Spes paragraph 50.

The Church certainly does not require its faithful to have as many children as they're capable of, nor does it require every act of sexual intercourse to be aimed at procreation -- just to set aside two very common misunderstandings. One has to bear in mind that one of the purposes of marriage, in Catholic thought, is the "procreation and education [or bringing-up] of children". Every married couple must discern for themselves the right balance between fruitfulness and their responsibility for the children they already have.

The main thing is that any "waiting a little bit here and there" be achieved by morally acceptable means. This is of course what the comments on your question were getting at.

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Pope Paul VI issued the Humanae Vitae encyclical in 1968 which provided the basis for not using artificial means of birth control.

Part of the argument is that God designed men and women to be fruitful, and that it is morally wrong to play God and circumvent God's design.

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I think it would be more accurate to say that Humanae Vitae reaffirmed the ancient prohibition against birth control, which was held in common by all Christians until the 1920s. The whole point of Humanae Vitae was to address whether the Pill, specifically, changed the moral landscape. You can see an indication of this in the footnotes of Gaudium et Spes (note 14 for Chapter 1), in which the Second Vatican Council reaffirmed the generic teaching roughly five years before Humanae Vitae, but deferred on specific questions arising from modern circumstances. –  Ben Dunlap Dec 20 '11 at 22:16

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