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"It is through conscience that human beings see and recognize the demands of the divine law. They are bound to follow their conscience faithfully in everything they do."
Religious Liberty, no 2.

Contraception and Natural Law (2)

The Physical Interpretation of Natural Law


The Physical InterpretationThe following readings have been selected to illustrate the interpretation of Natural Law by authors who place the emphasis on physical nature. Reason does play a role in the view of these authors but only to the extent that reason discovers fixed rules which, according to these authors, have been laid down by the Creator in the very way physical realities, such as bodily organs, have been constructed. Total commitment to one another in marital love includes the duty of a couple to enable each physical act of sexual intercourse to be open to procreation.

This line of thinking owes its origin to early and later medieval theologians.

In our own time it is the interpretation followed by the teaching authority of the Catholic Church. We offer here a representative selection of texts in which this view is explained.

click on each title to see the full text

  • Caesarius of Arles
    Is anyone unable to warn that no woman should accept a potion to prevent conception or to condemn within herself the nature which God wanted to be fruitful? Indeed, she will be held guilty of as many murders as the number of those she might have conceived or borne, and unless suitable penance saves her she will be condemned to eternal death in hell. If a woman does not want to bear children she should enter upon a pious agreement with her husband, for only the abstinence of a Christian woman is chastity.quotes
    Caesarius of Arles (ca 540), Sermon 1, 12; CC 103, 9.
  • Pope Gregory IX
    If anyone, to satisfy his lust or in meditated hatred, does something to a man or woman or gives them something to drink so that he cannot generate or she conceive, or the offspring be born—let him be considered a murderer.

    If conditions are set against the substance of marriage—for example, if one says to the other, “I contract with you if you avoid offspring” – the matrimonial contract, in spite of mutual consent, lacks effect.quotes
    Pope Gregory IX (1234), Decretals, Book V, 12, 5.
  • Bishop Hulton Sheen
    The Church defends Natural Law . . . Just suppose that a large number of people went around with their eyes blindfolded and their ears plugged up. The Church would say: 'Natural Law made eyes for seeing and ears for hearing. You must not vitiate the purpose of those organs!' . . .

    God created male and female in a certain way. Therefore their organs must be used in the way intended, that is for child bearing . . .quotes
    Bishop Fulton Sheen (1950 ?), The Catholic Hour.
  • Pope Paul VI
    The Church, nevertheless, in urging people to observe the precepts of the natural law, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life . . . The reason is that the fundamental nature of the (sexual) marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life—and this as a result of laws written into the actual (physical) nature of man and of woman . . . Therefore 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.quotes
    Pope Paul VI (1968), Humanae Vitae, § 11-14.
  • Professor Thomas Pazhayampallil
    The morality of marital acts does not depend solely on human intentions or motives. It depends on God’s intentions. That is to say, we have to take into account those laws which God has built into a human being’s sexual structure, the institution of marriage, the meaning and fulfilment of married love. The Church teaches that the evaluation of sexual behaviour in marriage must take account of that objective divinely established (physical) order of reality over which the creature has no control, whose laws he must respect and which imposes limits beyond which it is sinful for the creature to go . . .
    The sexual act by its nature is ordained towards procreation. A human being's biological nature is an essential part of being, and radical separation from it disintegrates the person at a basic root. This is above all true of the woman. The knowledge of the sexual in her biology is what scholastics would call “ontological”; it is stamped on her very being. Her maternal instinct is profoundly written in her biology and she is month by month reminded of this deep sexual role which she cannot escape. The indelible sexual stamp on her biology naturally and directly relates her to potential new life, to its beginning, its nature, its conservation. She is there when a baby is conceived, when it grows, when it is bom, when it feeds from her and when it develops from absolute helplessness to physical and emotional stability. Thus the sexual act is an act of human affirmation and commitment . . .quotes
    Fr. Thomas Pazhayampallil, Morality of the artificial means of birth control,
    Pastoral Guide, Vol II pp.724-743.