Fatal to the Faith and to Eternal Life
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
On the thirtieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae, it seems only proper
to identify what contraception really is. It is at once fatal to the true faith
and to the eternal life which our faith promises.
You might say this piece will be two articles in one. First we shall see how
the practice of contraception inevitably leads to the loss of the true faith.
Then we shall look at how contraception leads to eternal death.
Contraception Fatal to the Faith
This must seem like a strange title, "Contraception-Fatal to the Faith."
What does the title mean? Does it mean that to believe in contraception is contrary
to the faith? Or does it mean that Christian believers may not practice contraception?
Or does it mean that those who practice contraception are in danger of losing
What do we mean by the title and what is the thesis of this presentation? We
mean that professed Catholics who practice contraception either give up the
practice of contraception or they give up their Catholic faith.
Needless to say, this is a startling statement that many would violently disagree
with. They will point out the widespread practice of contraception among many
some would say the majority of professed Catholics in a country like the United
States. They will quote from numerous professedly Catholic moral theologians
openly defending contraception. They will give you the pronouncements of whole
conferences of bishops who claim that contraception is really a matter of conscience.
Those who sincerely believe that contraception is morally permissible may not
be told they are doing wrong; they may not be barred from receiving Holy Communion;
in fact, they need not even have to confess the practice of contraception when
they go to confession.
We return to where we began, to make clear what we are saying. We affirm in
this article that the deliberate practice of contraception between husband and
wife is objectively a mortal sin. Those who persist in its practice are acting
contrary to the explicit teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. They may protest
that they are Catholic. They may profess to be Catholics. But their conduct
belies their profession.
Someone may object that we are living in a contraceptive society. Moreover,
the silence of so many bishops and the overt teaching of so many nominally Catholic
moralists defending contraception forbids our saying that contraception and
the Catholic faith are incompatible.
In the light of all the foregoing, let me address myself to the following topics
which collectively prove the underlying thesis of this article.
- The Catholic Church teaches infallible doctrine, both in faith and morals.
- This infallible teaching is done by the Church's extraordinary and by her
ordinary universal authority or magisterium.
- The grave sinfulness of contraception is taught infallibly by the Church's
ordinary universal teaching authority.
- Therefore, those who defend contraception forfeit their claim to being professed
- Consequently, those who persist in their defense of contraception, deprive
themselves of the divine graces which are reserved to bona fide members of the
Roman Catholic Church.
The Church Teaches Infallibly On Faith And Morals
There is some value in explaining that the Church's infallibility covers not
only doctrines that are to be believed, like Christ's divinity or His Real Presence
in the Eucharist. No, the Church also, and with emphasis, also teaches infallibly
what the followers of Christ are to do.
In His final commission to the Apostles, Jesus told them to teach all nations,
"to observe all that I have commanded you." To mention just one infallible
teaching in the moral order: the permanence of the marriage bond. Emphatically,
the Church's irreversible doctrines include truths that we are obliged to believe.
But they also include precepts that we are universally bound to obey.
This deserves to be emphasized. Why? Because there are nominally Catholic writers
who are claiming that the Church's gift of infallibility extends only to her
teaching of the faith. It does not, so the claim goes, include grave moral obligations
like the prohibition of adultery, sodomy or contraception. That is not true.
Two Forms of Infallible Teaching
What are the two ways in which the Church teaches infallibly? She does so whenever
the Pope solemnly defines a dogma of the faith, as when in 1950 Pope Pius XII
declared that Our Lady was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.
But the Church also teaches infallibly whenever her bishops, united with the
Pope, proclaim that something is to be accepted by all the faithful. Thus abortion
was condemned as murder by the Catholic hierarchy, under the Pope, already in
the first century of the Christian era and ever since.
It is therefore infallibly true that abortion is a crime of willful homicide.
So, too, the grave sinfulness of homosexuality is infallible Catholic teaching.
Infallibly True That Contraception Is a Mortal Sin
We return to where we began. Is it infallible Catholic doctrine that contraception
is a mortal sin? Yes!
How do we know? We know this from the twenty centuries of the Catholic Church's
teaching. Already in the first century, those who professed the Catholic Faith
did not practice either contraception or abortion, which were commonly linked
The people of the pagan Roman Empire into which they were born universally
- Cohabitation of one man with either several legal wives, or with a plurality
In contrast with this moral promiscuity, Christians practiced monogamy, one
man with one woman; they did not use drugs to prevent conception; they did not
kill the newborn children whom they did not want to live; they did not practice
sodomy or prostitution; and for the Christian, adultery and fornication were
grave sins that might require several years of penitential expiation.
What do we call the Church's unbroken tradition in forbidding contraception?
We call it her ordinary universal magisterium or teaching authority. This has
always been considered a proof of infallibility, or from another perspective,
irreversibility. What do these two terms mean?
- Infallibility means that God
protects the Church from error in her 2000 years of teaching that contraception
is a grave sin against God.
- Irreversibility means that this teaching will never
be reversed. Contraception will remain a grave sin until the end of time.
To Defend Contraception Forfeits the Catholic Faith
As Christianity expanded, the inevitable happened. Once professed Christians
lapsed into their former paganism. We read in the first three centuries about
the thousands of Christians who chose to be thrown to the lions, or beheaded,
or crucified rather than conform to the pagan immorality that was so prevalent
in the culture in which they lived.
It is possible to misunderstand the Age of Martyrs of the first three centuries
of the Christian era. We are liable to associate professing the Christian faith
by refusing to drop a grain of incense before a statue of one of the pagan gods.
No, the issue was much deeper and more serious. To be a Christian meant to refuse
to conform to the pagan morality of those who did not believe in Christ. To
be a Christian meant to reject the pagan immorality of the contemporary world
at the heart of which was the practice of contraception.
The Situation in the Modern World
Contraception as a general practice is a recent innovation in the western nominally
Christian society. Its rise is partly explained by the medical discovery of
drugs which either prevent conception, or which destroy the unborn child in
its mother's womb.
But the rise of contraception is mainly the result of a widespread propaganda
by women like Margaret Sanger and the powerful forces of population control.
What have been the consequences of this return to prechristian paganism which
is now "the law of the land" in once Christian nations like the United
States? The consequences are inevitable.
The once solitary defender of the sanctity of marital relations is now on trial
for the profession of its Catholic faith. In 1968, when Pope Paul VI published
Humanae Vitae, the episcopal conferences of one country after another
met in solemn session to pass judgment on the teachings of the Vicar of Christ.
Bishops in what we call the "Third World Countries" stood firmly
behind the Pope's teaching. But the bishops of so-called developed countries,
like the United States, or Canada, or France, or Germany, or Austria, or Scandinavia
issued long documents that, to put it mildly, compromised the teachings of the
Vicar of Christ.
What followed was as inevitable as night follows day. Once firmly believing
Catholics became confused, or bewildered, or simply uncertain about the grave
moral evil of contraception. The spectacle of broken families, broken homes, divorce and annulments, abortion
and the mania of homosexuality all of this has its roots in the acceptance
of contraception on a wide scale in what only two generations ago was a professed
Contraception Fatal to the Faith
We come back to where we started by claiming that contraception is fatal
to the Catholic Faith.
By divine ordinance, those who call themselves Catholic must subscribe to the
moral teachings of the Catholic Church of which the Bishop of Rome is the visible
This Catholic Church now stands alone in the world as the one universal authority
which condemns contraception as contrary to the will of God.
Within the Catholic ranks has arisen an army of dissidents who speak and write
in defense of contraception. The sex-preoccupied Andrew Greeley of Chicago recently
devoted a whole chapter of a book entitled, "That damned encyclical,"
referring to Humanae Vitae. This priest remains in good standing in ecclesiastical
When the present Holy Father made his first pilgrimage as Pope to the United
States, he pleaded in Chicago with the American bishops to do something over
the scandal of so many Catholics on Sundays going to Holy Communion and so few
going to confession.
All the evidence indicates that the core issue at stake is contraception. If
contraception is not a grave sin, well then what is? And why go to confession
if I am still in God's friendship although practicing contraception.
What is the new conclusion? That the single, principal cause for the breakdown
of the Catholic faith in materially overdeveloped countries like ours has been
St. James tells us that faith without good works is dead. What good is it to
give verbal profession of the Catholic faith, and then behave like a pagan in
The single most crucial need to stem this hemorrhage from the Catholic Faith
is for the Church's leaders to stand behind the Vicar of Christ in proclaiming
the Church's two millennia of teaching that no marital act can be separated
from its God-given purpose to conceive and procreate a child.
I make bold to say that the Catholic Church, the real Roman Catholic Church,
will survive only where her bishops are courageous enough to proclaim what the
followers of Christ have believed since apostolic times. But the bishops are
frail human beings. They need, Lord how they need, the backing and support of
the faithful under their care.
Contraception Fatal to Eternal Life
What can this possibly mean? It means exactly what it says. The practice of
contraception is a grave sin. Those who indulge in the practice are in danger
of losing their immortal souls.
Difficult or intolerable as the language may seem, it is the truth. My purpose
here is to prove that historic Christianity has always held, holds now, and
always will hold, that contraception is a serious offense against God. Unless
repented, it is punishable by eternal deprivation of the vision of God, which
we call eternal death.
Teaching of the Church in Apostolic Times
Historians agree that contraception is a social practice that goes back to
centuries before Christ. Medical papyri describing contraceptive methods are
as old as 2700 BC in China, and 1850 BC in Egypt.
In the Roman Empire of the first century of the Christian era, contraception
was universally approved and practiced by the people.
As might be expected, the followers of Christ were faced from the beginning
with a hard choice. If they wanted to remain faithful to Christ's teaching,
they had to avoid contraception.
In the language of the day, contraceptive practice was referred to as "using
magic" and "using drugs." It was in this sense that the first
century Teaching of the Twelve Apostles warns Christians in four successive
- "You shall not use magic."
- "You shall not use drugs."
- "You shall not procure abortion."
- "You shall not destroy an unborn child."
The sequence of those prohibitions is significant. We know from the record
of those times that women would first try some magical rites or use sorcery
to avoid conception. If this failed, they would take one or another of then
known seventeen medically approved contraceptives. If a woman still became pregnant,
she would try to abort. And if even this failed, she and her male partner could
always resort to infanticide, which was approved by Roman law.
Christians were warned not to follow the example of their pagan contemporaries,
who walked in darkness and the shadow of death. Christians were absolutely forbidden
to practice contraception, which leads to abortion, which leads to infanticide.
From Apostolic Times to Humanae Vitae
For the next 1900 years, the litany of the Church's teaching on artificial
birth control was never interrupted. Popes and saints and scholars in different
words and from different perspectives taught the same thing: Contraception is
a grave sin that no one who claims to be a Christian may perform.
Out of a library of witnesses to this doctrine, St. Augustine wrote a whole
treatise on Conjugal Adultery, in which he declared, "Intercourse with
one's legitimate wife is unlawful and wicked whenever the conception of offspring
is prevented." When recently, the present Holy Father repeated St. Augustine's
statement about contraception as marital adultery, he was crucified by the world
That is why no one should have been surprised at the reception, or rather,
rejection, that Pope Paul VI's Encyclical Humanae Vitae received in 1968.
Thirty years ago, Paul VI appealed to the conscience of the world when he warned
about "the consequences of practicing artificial birth control." His
warning was prophetic. What have been the consequences of contraception in one
once-civilized nation after another?
They have been myriad. But I would give especially seven, which may be listed
- Breakdown of the family; and
- Murder of the unborn.
At the risk of repeating the obvious, let me briefly show how contraception
inevitably leads to these seven tragedies that haunt the modern world.
How can we expect unmarried people to practice chastity if married people are
allowed to practice mutual masturbation, which is another name for contraception?
This touches at the heart of sane morality. Intercourse is the divinely instituted
means for married person to cooperate with God in procreating children. It is
also the divinely provided means of fostering mutual love between husband and
wife. But contraception does just the opposite. It deliberately prevents the
conception of a child and it fosters, not mutual love, but mutual selfishness.
Is it any wonder that our country is plagued with fornicators who indulge their
sex passions, while avoiding the responsibilities of parenthood?
How can a husband respect a wife who insists on using contraceptives? And how
can a wife respect a husband who refuses to accept the duties of fatherhood?
The soul of Christian marriage is selfless love between the spouses. Contraceptive
relations between married people are a lie. They pretend to love one another.
But in reality, they are using one another in what might just well be called
prostitution. The history of mankind is clear. Contraception in marriage leads
to infidelity in either or in both partners. Naturally! Why limit sex activity
to one's spouse if no commitment to having or raising children is the consequence
We do not ordinarily associate contraception with sterilization. But we should.
It is one thing to use contraception as an occasional malpractice. It is something
else when people have themselves sterilized to avoid even fathering or mothering
Yet massive sterilization, in a country like the United States, has become
commonplace. Now the discovery of a five-year, synthetic hormone contraceptive
gives carte blanche to any female teenager or adult, willing to have it surgically
implanted under the skin. One of the largest school systems in America is doing
just that at taxpayer's expense. The sterilizing hormone is implanted under
the skin in young girl's arms. No parental permission is needed.
This opened the door to an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases, whose
ratio is already sky-high in the United States.
The relationship between contraception and homosexuality is seldom adverted
to and, in homosexual circles, openly denied. Yet they are connected by the
most basic laws of human society.
Contraception contradicts the most fundamental desire of the human heart: to
give oneself in total generosity to another human being. Marital relations are
meant by God to satisfy this desire between the married spouses. But if women
selfishly withhold this generosity from men, men will-tragically look for such
generosity in other men. And women will look for it in other women.
As you read some of the homosexual and lesbian literature, you are moved to
tears at seeing how a contraceptive society has begotten a homosexual society.
In their desperate search for love, men will turn to other men and women to
other women. To say they are being deceived is only to emphasize the pity of
a sodomistic culture that is starving for love. Contraception deprives married
people of the love that they expect to find in a marriage between two people
of opposite and complementary gender.
With all the published writings and statistics on Acquired Immune Deficiency,
seldom a word is to associate this dreadful scourge with widespread practice
In spite of all the protests to the contrary, the AIDS epidemic has its roots
in homosexuality. By now, of course, there are victims of AIDS whose condition
is the result of other factors than sodomy. But the radical cause remains. And
therefore, we should in sheer justice, associate the physical disease with its
moral foundations, which is homosexuality abetted by contraception.
The breakdown of stable family life in formerly Christian countries of the
Western world is a matter of record. No one who is even dimly aware of what
is going on in countries like our own, has any doubt that the family, as known
since the dawn of Christianity, is being legislated out of existence.
I use the word "legislated" to bring out what Pope Paul stated so
clearly in Humanae Vitae. In context, he is urging reasons for avoiding
contraception. He says:
Consider also the dangerous weapon that would thus be placed in the hands of
those public authorities who pay no attention to moral obligations. Who could
blame a government for applying to the solution of the problems of a community
those means acknowledged licit for married couples in the solution of a family
problem? So it has been. Once contraception became widespread, it was only logical
for civil governments to impose a contraceptive way of life on all their citizens.
Thus, everything controlled by the government reflects a contraceptive mentality:
- The majority of employed people, working outside the home, are women.
- The salaries earned by husbands and fathers make it next to impossible for
them to provide for the size and kind of family they would honestly desire.
- The feminist ideology deprives men of the dignity and respect they deserve
and need in the modern world.
- The number of children of single parent, shall we call them families, has
reached gigantic proportions.
- Countless children are no longer reared by their parents, but by paid personnel
in so called day care centers.
- Working mothers and under-paid fathers have become commonplace.
- The very idea of a stable and loving family has become for millions a
All of this, and more, can be traced, as surely as smoke proves a fire, to
the contraceptive mania that is destroying the foundations of the human family.
I have saved abortion as the last of the seven deadly consequences of contraception.
This, too, is a law of human behavior. Abortion follows contraception like the
law of gravity.
This is obvious. As people come to equate sexual pleasure with the self-gratification,
there is no limit to their lustful pride. Contraception has taught them to have
their own way. They will stop at nothing to have their way, not even murder
of their unborn offspring.
Respect for human life requires selfless love of human beings. As a nation
is nurtured on contraceptive self-indulgence, it becomes a nation that kills
innocent children if they are an obstacle to the self-gratification of those
who brought them into existence.
It has been correctly said that Humanae Vitae divides the Catholic Church
into two periods of history. The Church will survive only among those who believe
that contraception is deadly to both Christianity and the promise of a heavenly
reward. Normally thirty years is a short time. But in this case it has been
long enough to prove who are still truly Catholics. They are those who believe
that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ. "If you love me," Jesus said,
"keep my commandments." The single most tested commandment of the
Savior today is that contraception is fatal to the true faith and to eternal
Father Hardon is the Executive Editor of The Catholic Faith magazine.
Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica