CONTRACEPTION

CONTRACEPTION

John T. Noonan
Copyright Date: 1986
Published by: Harvard University Press
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2tt7pf
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  • Book Info
    CONTRACEPTION
    Book Description:

    Originally published in 1965, Contraception received unanimous acclaim from all quarters as the first thorough, scholarly, objective analysis of Catholic doctrine on birth control. More than ever this subject is of acute concern to a world facing serious population problems, and the author has written an important new appendix examining the development of and debates over the doctrine in the past twenty years.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-07026-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-6)

    This book is an investigation of the teaching of the theologians and canonists of the Catholic Church on contraception. It sets out the history of this teaching, and in this process attempts to discover the reasons for the positions taken. The history of a question is itself a work of criticism. Answers are critically compared. Assumptions, made explicit, are analyzed. Other questions are brought to light. I attempt here such a criticism, bringing together the criticisms of the theologians and canonists themselves, and considering what further questions might appropriately have been raised.

    “Contraception” is a term which could be applied...

  4. PART ONE SHAPING OF THE DOCTRINE 50–450
    • CHAPTER I CONTRACEPTION IN THE ROMAN EMPIRE
      (pp. 9-29)

      Unlike many acts on which moral judgment has been passed, contraception requires a knowledge of technique. Even the most elementary contraceptive behavior calls for the possession of some biological information; mechanical methods rest on some awareness of physiology; chemical preparations demand a further mastery of pharmacology. If these kinds of technical knowledge were nonexistent, there would be no acts of contraception for moralists to judge. The effectiveness of existing technique, and the distinction between it and means used to control birth by producing abortions, are also germane to the moral evaluation, as are the extent of the diffusion of the...

    • CHAPTER II THE SCRIPTURAL STRUCTURE AND EXTERNAL SOURCES OF DOCTRINE
      (pp. 30-55)

      The text of a sacred document is not so important as the interpretation it is given. The Catholic community has generally recognized that the vital meaning of a biblical passage is that which the community, the Church, gives it. Yet if a book is regarded as sacred, inspired by God, as the Bible is regarded by Catholics, the texts themselves must remain a guide, a criterion rebuking extravagant hypotheses, a treasury to which the speculative theologian or legislating bishop must return. In a process that can only be seen historically as interaction, the Word of God is interpreted by the...

    • CHAPTER III GNOSTICS, PAGANS, AND THE ALEXANDRIAN RULE
      (pp. 56-106)

      The formation of early Christian doctrine on contraception is largely a response to two major attitudes prevalent in the Greco-Roman world. One attitude was religious and therefore, I believe, of greater concern to religious men. It was an attitude hostile to all procreation. It was the position of the Gnostics. The other attitude was less defined, more generally secular. It consisted of indifference to the preservation of embryonic and infant life. It was the attitude of many pagans. Connected with it, although distinguishable, was an indifference to male promiscuity and to the sexual exploitation of other persons.

      In opposition to...

    • CHAPTER IV THE MORALS OF THE MANICHEES, AND ST. AUGUSTINE
      (pp. 107-140)

      Borrowing much from the Gnostics, something from Christianity, and a good deal from Iranian folk religion, the prophet Mani (216–277) founded a new religion, bequeathed it a scripture, and sealed his testimony of a new revelation by his martyrdom. Begun in Babylon, the religion spread before his death to Egypt, Palestine, Rome; by the mid-fourth century it was in Asia Minor, Greece, Illyria, Italy, North Africa. Like Christianity, Manicheanism was a religion with a canonical scripture: it possessed the seven books of Mani. Like Christianity, it claimed to be universal: its hierachy and apostles spread throughout the Roman world....

  5. PART TWO THE CONDEMNATION INGRAINED 450–1450
    • CHAPTER V THE LESSONS OF THE MONKS
      (pp. 143-170)

      The doctrine of the Fathers, so brilliantly synthesized by St. Augustine, received a sharper, simpler, rougher presentation in the next several centuries, from approximately 500 to 1100. The transmission was largely the work of monks. They brought to their task a strong respect for tradition and an accompanying disinterest in speculation; at the same time, within the supernaturalist, traditional framework they accepted, they were rationalists in a mechanical way: they wanted a strict accounting for the purpose of each human act; they wanted specific proscriptions of immoral conduct and concrete sanctions for each violation of the code. Partly as a...

    • CHAPTER VI THE CANONISTS, THE CATHARS, AND ST. AUGUSTINE
      (pp. 171-199)

      Martin of Braga and Burchard of Worms had put out prohibitions of contraception purporting to be the work of councils. Their work had circulated with considerable authority; but these episcopal collections were not actions of the pope or the universal Church. A new stage was arrived at when a canon against contraception appeared in a papally authorized collection. In the development from the late-eleventh to the mid-thirteenth century this new peak of opposition to contraception was reached.

      Three factors played a part in the development. They were the tradition incorporated in the penitential and conciliar documents of the past; the...

    • CHAPTER VII CONTRACEPTIVE TECHNIQUES: MEANS AND DISSEMINATION IN THE HIGH MIDDLE AGES
      (pp. 200-230)

      The ecclesiastical concern with contraception is inherited from the Fathers and the penitentials; it is restated in reaction to Cathar ideology. After the establishment of Lombard, Gratian, and the Decretals as basic texts, most writers of the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries phrased their comments on contraception in categories derived from Aliquando, Adulterii malum, and Si aliquis. It might be supposed that their comments were pure interpretations of the texts, framed without reference to contemporary practices. But that a civilization whose articulated ideals were largely the work of monks and clerics should have had no commerce with contraception would be...

    • CHAPTER VIII THE RATIONALE OF THE PROHIBITION
      (pp. 231-257)

      The condemnation of contraception had been reaffirmed, in the context of the reaction against the Cathars, in the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. Thereafter, the condemnation appeared as the assertion of authority, as the established doctrine of the Fathers, as the law set out by the papacy. This authoritative condemnation was applied to the contraceptive behavior encountered in the later Middle Ages. Yet if authority existed and dominated analysis, it was not authority of the strongest kind. No single biblical text had gained undisputed rule over the field, as had Luke 6:35, “Lend freely, hoping nothing thereby,” in the condemnation...

    • CHAPTER IX SANCTIONS
      (pp. 258-274)

      By stamping contraceptive behavior as mortal sin, the theologians of the high Middle Ages, in agreement with the penitentials and the Fathers, maintained the most serious and most universal deterrent to contraceptive usage by a conscientious Christian. To engage in an act which cut one off from grace, offended God, entailed eternal consequences unless remitted — such a deed might be done by a fallible human, but every Christian trying to love God would do his best to avoid it. No Catholic practicing contraception could consider himself in the state of grace, that is, spiritually alive, open to God; nor could...

    • CHAPTER X COUNTER APPROACHES
      (pp. 275-300)

      In the prodigious effort of the theologians and canonists to work out the theory of inherited Christian morality, it might be expected that ideas would have been championed, by orthodox writers, which challenged the dominant theory; that values would have been recognized which logic could extend to clash with the values upheld by the marriage theory; that practices might be accepted whose acceptance would pose problems of consistency with theory. In this chapter I propose to examine some of the counter ideas, values, and practices current between 1150 and 1450.

      A minority current of medieval theology put a value on...

  6. PART THREE INNOVATION AND PRESERVATION 1450–1750
    • CHAPTER XI NEW ATTITUDES AND ANALYSES
      (pp. 303-340)

      Between 1450 and 1750 the doctrine on the purposes of marital intercourse evolved — not in a straight linear motion, not to a point of final perfection — but, with difficulties and setbacks, to a new synthesis distinguishable from the medieval balance. The Augustinian theory of intercourse was seriously impaired. The idea of limiting intercourse in order to avoid excessive births was introduced and given theological approval. Amplexus reservatus was increasingly discussed as a lawful alternative to contraception. The innovations accepted amount to a partial triumph of the theories and values labeled, in terms of the medieval synthesis, “counter approaches.”

      The cultural...

    • CHAPTER XII THE RULE PRESERVED
      (pp. 341-384)

      If, in the period between 1450 and 1750, the leading theologians ceased to insist on procreation as the exclusive lawful purpose for initiating intercourse; if the need to educate existing children was recognized by some theologians as a good reason for not wanting more; if some value was assigned to pleasure in intercourse; if the interruption of intercourse short of insemination received some support; was not the condemnation of contraception affected? The new values and analyses bore on the assumptions underlying the condemnation. A rethinking of these assumptions would seem to have been in order.

      In some ways the conditions...

  7. PART FOUR DEVELOPMENT AND CONTROVERSY 1750–965
    • CHAPTER XIII THE SPREAD OF BIRTH CONTROL: THE RESPONSES OF THE BISHOPS AND THE POPE
      (pp. 387-437)

      A new period in the history of the doctrine on contraception began near the end of the eighteenth century. It was marked by two phenomena: the decline in the birth rate of France, the most populous country in Europe, and the open advocacy, especially in England and the United States, of birth control as a socially desirable practice. Of these two phenomena, the first had the greater immediate impact on Catholic teaching. France was the largest of Catholic countries; what happened in it was bound to be of intense concern to the Church.

      According to estimates accepted by demographers as...

    • CHAPTER XIV PERMITTED AND DISPUTED MEANS OF CONTROLLING CONCEPTION
      (pp. 438-475)

      When means are developed to reach a result whose achievement by other means is prohibited, several questions arise. Does the logic of the prohibition require condemnation of the new alternatives, or does the existence of the alternatives require rethinking of the prohibition, or can prohibition and permitted alternatives coexist? Is it the means and not the end which is objectionable? What is the purpose of the prohibition? All of these questions, so characteristic of the development of rules, appeared in the course of controversy over the means by which conception might be regulated.

      Prior to the mid-nineteenth century, it was...

    • CHAPTER XV THE DOCTRINE AND THE CONTEXT
      (pp. 476-534)

      The period from 1880 to the present — in which contraception spread throughout the world, the planning of births became a generally accepted ideal in Western and Western-influenced cultures, and the Catholic Church waged war on contraception — was also marked by changes whose impact on the Catholic position was inescapable. The changes created a new context for the teaching on contraception. At the same time developments within the Church and an internal evolution of doctrine on marriage affected the inner constituents of the teaching. The question of permissible means of regulating birth could not be decided by the simple inspection of...

  8. APPENDIX: NATURAL LAW, THE TEACHING OF THE CHURCH, AND THE REGULATION OF THE RHYTHM OF HUMAN FECUNDITY
    (pp. 535-554)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 555-581)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 582-582)