Wednesday, May 29, 2013

NFP: "Trojan Horse," or Saving Grace? Part 1

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This is Part 1 of a series. I started writing, and there's just so much to say, I had to break it up.

Wife came across an article that is not only flat wrong in its theological assessments, but also quite damaging. The article (and the author) present NFP on the same lines as using artificial birth control - that it is the mindset of attempting to space births that is the problem. The article goes on to assert that this violates the fundamental order of marriage as proclaimed through the Tradition of the Church...yet fails to back that up. In fact, the only citation in this piece is from a lay blogger.

Here is the article written by one Jay Boyd. You can skip the link, as it will quoting 95% of it as I rip it apart, with the help of Scripture and Tradition.

Now, let's dismantle this bit by bit, shall we?

The article starts out with something we can all, probably, agree with:
'Marriage is intended to be fruitful; God said so Himself! God’s plan for the sanctification of the married couple includes their cooperation with God in procreating new souls destined for Heaven.'
Wow. Deep. A simple reading of Genesis 1:28 comes to that conclusion. But I digress.
'NFP doesn’t explicitly fly in the face of such an understanding, but it is dramatically not submissive to God. NFP is all about a degree of control that is objectionable in any traditional Catholic understanding of marriage or Catholic spirituality in general.'
Getting dicey already.
So NFP is about "control." This is the first wrong assumption. NFP is not about "control." NFP is about sacrifice. NFP is about periodic abstinence, for just reasons, in order to live out the call of the married life in more fullness. But nevermind the fact that the author's basic assumptions are wrong. Let's look at that word "submissive."
The underlying claim is that NFP does not submit to God, because submitting to God means just letting your pants fall where they may and accepting any and all children that result. This is not submission to God. This is submission to hormones. In fact, the Church shows us the opposite approach.
If St. Paul were alive today he'd be on the radio 
he'd be an NFP teacher.
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St. Paul, in speaking about marriage in 1 Corinthians 7:5, counsels us to, "Defraud not one another, except, perhaps, by consent, for a time, that you may give yourselves to prayer; and return together again, lest Satan tempt you for your incontinency."
NFP promotes married spouses (check) to participate in consensual abstinence (check), for a period of time (check), that allows the couple to grow holier in prayer and marital fidelity (check), then reunite (check), so that the temptations and struggles of Satan do not become overpowering (check). Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, is proposing NFP in the first century A.D.!
Now, call me crazy, but it seems to me like the Bible (oh, and I always quote the Douay-Rheims, BTW - so heads up on that) is just a wee bit more of an authority on "marriage or Catholic spirituality in general" than is our dear 'Ms. Boyd.'
Let's see what's next:
'NFP promoters attempt to elevate non-abstinence (that is, the circumvention of the need to abstain from the marital embrace) to the level of a virtue, achieved by gaining knowledge of God’s designs so as to frustrate them. In other words, NFP promoters see the marital act as having “unitive” value that trumps its procreative value; therefore, engaging in marital intimacy when there is no risk of pregnancy is considered good in and of itself.'
Is this traditional enough?
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NFP promoters do not separate and elevate one aspect over another. Like true Church spirituality, it takes EVERYTHING the Church proclaims, at once, in context. Like, for example, the Baltimore Catechism:
"458. What are the chief duties of husband and wife in the married state? 
The chief duties of husband and wife in the married state are to be faithful to each other, and to provide in every way for the welfare of the children God may give them.
466. What are the chief effects of the sacrament of Matrimony? 
The chief effects of the sacrament of Matrimony are: first, an increase of sanctifying grace; second, the special help of God for husband and wife to love each other faithfully, to bear with each other's faults, and to bring up their children properly."
For many people, especially in times where husbands have been ripped from the homes to work long hours at desk jobs, plus commutes, the increase of stress can be a temptation to sin - exactly the types that St. Paul warns us about.
So what are we, as NFP promoters, really attempting to "control"?
First and foremost, NFP is a method to live according to God's design of the human person while working toward the sanctification of the entire family. NFP'ers are trying to "control" the factors in their lives that lead to a decrease of holiness - severe health risks, financial instability, depression, anxiety, etc.
Furthermore, "unitive" is not trumping "procreative." The four F's of Catholic sexuality (free, fruitful, faithful, full) are all present and respected while using NFP.
'But sex is not an end in itself.'
Uh....yes it is. From the current Catechism of the Catholic Church:
2360    Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion. Marriage bonds between baptized persons are sanctified by the sacrament.
2362    “The acts in marriage by which the intimate and chaste union of the spouses takes place are noble and honorable; the truly human performance of these acts fosters the self-giving they signify and enriches the spouses in joy and gratitude.” Sexuality is a source of joy and pleasure:
The Creator himself... established that in the [generative] function, spouses should experience pleasure and enjoyment of body and spirit. Therefore, the spouses do nothing evil in seeking this pleasure and enjoyment. They accept what the Creator has intended for them. At the same time, spouses should know how to keep themselves within the limits of just moderation.
2363    The spouses’ union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. 
Sex IS an end in itself in that it mirrors the Trinity's self-gift in the physical world. Sex IS an end in itself in glorifying God' creation. Remember Genesis 1:31, and the whole "very good" part of creation? Sex is part of creation, and is very good indeed.
God: "Yes, it really is good. I promise!"

Back to Ms. Boyd:
'The traditional understanding of marriage is threefold: 1) the procreation and education of children; 2) mutual care and support for the married couple in their journey to Heaven; and 3) a remedy for concupiscence.'
OK. We'll see where this unravels soon enough.
'And once upon a time, people actually got married first and then realized those ends. Nowadays, people seek the “remedy for concupiscence” (i.e., sex) first, and only afterwards might consider the other two ends. In the past, some couples probably got married primarily as a remedy for concupiscence, knowing that indulging their sexual appetites might lead to pregnancy.
Taking the traditional view of marriage, if a man and a woman long to engage in the marital act, but are not prepared to have children, they should postpone marriage until they are truly “open to life”. They should not be thinking of ways to have sex that allow them to avoid that “consequence.” '
"Oh, Honey. I love that we are probably
getting married as a remedy to our own
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How does she know what other couples "probably" did? That's a bit presumptuous.
And how does she know the reason that Catholics today seek marriage?
There are so many blanket generalizations here, it really is hard to take any of this seriously.
But anyway. This is where it really starts to unravel.
First of all, marriage is for all three of the reasons Ms. Boyd stated above. Nowhere - and I mean absolutely nowhere - is there a Church document stating that spouses must be ready to get pregnant on Day 1 of being married.
I suppose it comes down to what Ms. Boyd's definition of "open to life" is. She seems to be asserting that being "open to life" means engaging in marital acts only if there is full intention of conceiving.
But that's not what the Church teaches. From the CCC:
"2368    A particular aspect of this responsibility concerns the regulation of procreation. For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood. "
Ms. Boyd's theology makes no room for situations in which having a child right away could adversely affect the future of a marriage. For example, if a couple is married just before the husband is deployed in the military. Or, if a couple is married and still finishing college. Or, if a couple is engaged, one falls ill, and they married during recovery. Or, if a couple had had nmedical issues in the past that, while not insurmountable, make the cost of a safe, modern delivery beyond affordable for that couple.
These situations are all just cause for delaying pregnancy, lest outside problems (lack of the father due to deployment, illness, financial hardships, health) be a stumbling block.

More on this in Part 2.


  1. Was on honeymoon, so never got around to reading the link you posted at my blog. Now that I did, good job.

    I also think it needs to be stressed that she really horribly botches what the Church teaches when they teach the marital embrace is a "remedy of concupisence." It isn't some concession to biological urges. It's why it is called the marital embrace and not sex. It's not just some biological event. It is something the sacrament of matrimony has the potential to transform into something which makes couples holier. It is a "remedy" in the sense that it can help heal our disordered appetites due to the regaining (even if in just a faint way) of the original unity man and woman were called to posses in God's plan!

  2. Kevin, that is an excellent point. The transformative power of the sacrament is not mentioned enough IMHO. Thanks for bringing that side of it up. Congrats, and hope you had a fantastic honeymoon! :)