Talk:Birth Control and Contraception

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Pre-1970?

I strongly object to the following statement: "Until about 1970, all Orthodox churches opposed the use of contraception. Since that time a "new consensus" has emerged, mostly, but not exclusively in America."

There are no canons in the Church pertaining to contraception. I know of, at most, one synod of bishops prior to 1970 condemning contraception. There are statements by individual bishops ad theologians, but not even from most Orthodox Churches, much less "all". The objections to the Roman Catholic view were expressed in the Russian Church and the Greek Church before 1970. Sherrard wrote in 1969. Evdokimov was writing in 1962, citing a 1960 article by V. Palachovsky in saying: "in the regular practice of the Russian Church, the priests, out of discretion, never ask questions on this subject.... In the opinion of the confessors, the entire domain of the relations between husband and wife is too intimate to provoke investigations by the priest.... At present, the question is never asked, because, as has been said, the domain of the sexual relations of spouses does not usually become the object of investigations by the Orthodox confessor, the latter not wishing to penetrat the intimacy where the unity of two in one flesh is accomplished and where the presence of a third is superfluous, even when invested with the priesthood and if only by his questions." Evdokimov adds his own judgement: "The opinion cited expresses the Orthodox attitude very clearly and correctly". This is not a mostly "American" consensus nor is it a new one. --Fr Lev 15:03, May 7, 2008 (UTC)

From what (little) reading I have done on the subject, ISTM that you're correct, Fr. Lev. I think perhaps the article is overstating the case significantly, essentially identifying the Orthodox position with the RC one. —Fr. Andrew talk contribs (THINK!) 15:18, May 7, 2008 (UTC)
Fr. Lev, the fact that the only citations you can give are from the 60's rather proves my point. There is quite a difference between not asking about contraception and condoning the practice. — FrJohn (talk)
I have not made a thorough study of the history of contraceptives, but I don't think that non-abortive methods of contraception were available to any significant degree until the late 19th century. You will also not find mention of natural family planning or the rhythm method prior to the 20th century. Frjohnwhiteford 10:27, May 28, 2008 (UTC)
Coitus interruptus is a non-abortive method of contraception which has always been universally available (see Onan, and interpretations of this passage by Clement of Alexandria and Jerome). There are a number of references to natural family planning prior to the 20th century, although few, if any, entailed an accurate understanding of the periods of maximum and minimum fertility within the menstrual cycle. Soranus of Ephesus (1st-2nd centuries AD) published an extant four-volume treatise on Gynaecology, in which he stated that the time "directly before and after menstruation" was the most fertile period for a woman (which is coincidentally the period of minimum fertility within a typical 28-day cycle.) Augustine of Hippo (and apparently the Manicheans with whom he associated earlier in his life) was familiar with Soranus' work, writing against the Manicheans: "Is it not you who used to counsel us to observe as much as possible the time when a woman, after her purification, is most likely to conceive, and to abstain from cohabitation at that time, lest the soul should be entangled in flesh? This proves that you approve of having a wife, not for the procreation of children, but for the gratification of passion." (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf104.iv.v.xx.html).

Today

A recent official, synodal statement is that of the Church of Russia, arguably the largest Orthodox Church in the world. In Bases of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church (2000), the Holy Synod declared: "In defining their attitude to the non-abortive contraceptives, Christian spouses should remember that human reproduction is one of the principal purposes of the divinely established marital union (see, X. 4). The deliberate refusal of childbirth on egoistic grounds devalues marriage and is a definite sin." This is consistent, of course, with the pre-1970 view of the Russian Church. --Fr Lev 01:34, May 8, 2008 (UTC)

Fr. Lev, Why do you say "consistent, of course..."? It is my understanding that many people in Russia thought that the statement here was not representative of Russian Orthodox tradition. It is vaguely worded enough to include a broad range of perspectives -- perhaps that is deliberate. — FrJohn (talk)
I don't believe there has been any controversy in Russia about the statement. I think if they had wanted to say that contraception was wrong under any circumstance, they could have easily said so. As it is, it seems to be fairly clear that there are circumstances in which it is allowable. Selfishness is the primary reason it would not be. But they could not give a simple definition of those circumstances in which it would be allowable, because it would be difficult to define such a thing without unintentionally excluding some scenarios that they had not thought about, but which would undoubtedly come up -- and I think that is the reason for the imprecision. Frjohnwhiteford 10:32, May 28, 2008 (UTC)
Once upon a time it was not unusual to see mothers who had given birth to 15 to 20 children... usually quite a few did not live to maturity. With modern medicine, infant mortality is far less than it was, and so without some form of contraception you could actually see larger families today than you had 200 years ago. I would argue that having 15 children would be a heavy burden for most couples to bear, and that it would not be simply on egoistic grounds that they might want to have a smaller family. Frjohnwhiteford 12:45, May 27, 2008 (UTC)
Fr. John W., I suspect changing economic realities (a move from agricultural to urban/industrial life) have a lot to do with this. — FrJohn (talk)

The Fathers on Contraception

I have had numerous debates with Roman Catholics on this issue, and I have yet to see a single quote from any Church Father that condemned anything other than abortifacients. If anyone wishes to argue to the contrary, they need to pony up the specific citations. Frjohnwhiteford 12:38, May 27, 2008 (UTC)

Fr. John W., there are the usual patristic proof-texts which one can find online. One problem (or interesting point) with regard to these is that they do not, for the most part, clearly separate plain contraception from abortifacients. The same goes for the canons. However, the clearest evidence is found in the Pentitentials, from Syria to Ireland to Russia. — FrJohn (talk) 05:02, May 28, 2008 (UTC)
The proof texts I have seen all rather clearly speak of herbal methods that were abortifacient. I have only seen reference to one obscure Russian penitential text. Do you have any of these quotes online? Frjohnwhiteford 10:46, May 28, 2008 (UTC)
I agree that patristic references to herbal contraceptives do not appear to distinguish between their contraceptive effects and their abortifacient effects. I fail to see how they exlusively refer to abortifacient effects. Some have argued that this lack of distinction indicates room for the interpretation that these Fathers would have condoned non-abortifacient contraceptives but forbidden those which were abortifacient. However might it not indicate the opposite? I.e. That these fathers considered that any attempt to actively prevent the sexual act's bearing fruit (whether non-abortifacient or otherwise) was to be denounced. Furthermore, I put it to you that there was very little comment or insistence among these Fathers about a "moment" at which life began (which would render anachronistic our distinctions about abortifacient vs non-abortifacient contraceptives). This seemed beside the point for them. The more important question seemed to be: What is the correct context for and disposition toward the sexual act? While there was significant disagreement among them about what constituted the primary purpose of the sexual act (e.g. Chrysostom vs. Augustine), they all seemed to agree that actively preventing its potential to produce life was unacceptable. While I am Eastern Orthodox and not Catholic, the following (Catholic) website contains a list of quotations from Church Fathers, which may be dismissed as prooftexts, but which also need to be engaged with individually and as a whole if any position condoning contraception is to be upheld: https://www.catholic.com/tract/contraception-and-sterilization.

Abortifacients

I think it is also worth defining "abortifacients" more clearly. I would include here ALL hormonal contraceptives (which, among other things, thin the lining of the uterous, inhibiting implantation in the case of "breakthrough" ovulation") as well as IUDs. Basically, barrier methods are the only things which avoid the possibility of abortion. — FrJohn (talk)

I would agree that hormonal contraceptives and IUD's are not acceptable. I would add though that NFP is also a form of contraception, which, as the article says, can be as effective as the pill in preventing pregnancy. Frjohnwhiteford 10:48, May 28, 2008 (UTC)
Hi Fr. John W., I think it is important to clarify that NFP may be birth control (if used to avoid conception), but not contraception (since it does nothing to act contra to conception, but merely works by abstinence, it's no more contraception than abstinence is!). This is, to my mind, a very significant difference. — FrJohn (talk) 19:08, May 28, 2008 (UTC)

I think the label depends upon the intention. The dictionary defines contraception as "deliberate prevention of conception or impregnation." If one is using NFP to prevent conception, then it would seem to be contraception. Someone in a sexual relationship who uses abstinence, either always or according to a schedule (NFP or the older rythym method), for the purpose of preventing conception, is using "natural" contraception. One who does so could be as guilty of participating in the "contraceptive ethos" as someone using artificial means. --Fr Lev 19:25, May 28, 2008 (UTC)

quote from St John Chrysostom

From the page on Sex:

"Saint John Chrysostom writes: 'If for a certain period, you and your wife have abstained by agreement, perhaps for a time of prayer and fasting, come together again for the sake of your marriage. You do not need procreation as an excuse. It is not the chief reason for marriage. Neither is it necessary to allow for the possibility of conceiving, and thus having a large number of children, something you may not want' (On Virginity, quoted by [George] Gabriel, [You Call My Words Immodest], p. 3)."[5]

This seems to be a clear approval of contraception. --Fr Lev 01:41, July 8, 2010 (UTC)

It would appear to be a clear approval of contraception. However that quote has been misattributed to Saint John Chrysostom, and is in fact George S. Gabriel's own interpretation of a passage of Chrysostom's from "On Virginity" (https://thoughtsintrusive.wordpress.com/2012/08/30/you-call-my-words-immodest/. See footnote 28 and the quote to which it refers.) I've corrected the attribution in the relevant section from the page on Sex, and included the passage which Gabriel is interpreting.

You are right about the misattribution. However, Gabriel is commenting on passages from St John Chrysostom where he is citing St Paul to make the case that sex between spouses is not solely for procreation. --Fr Lev (talk) 21:33, June 21, 2018 (UTC)

I agree that Gabriel is commenting on passages from St John Chrysostom, who (citing St Paul) makes a convincing case that sex between spouses is not solely for procreation. However it does not follow from this point of Chrysostom's that sexual acts in which the purpose of procreation is actively excluded are implicitly condoned. The burden of proof for this implication is quite high and its validity seems increasingly tenuous when this passage is taken together with Chrysostom's comments on contraception/abortion in his 24th homily on Romans and his 28th on Mathew, as well as contemporary comments on coitus interruptus by St Jerome (Against Jovinian 1:19) and by St Epiphanios of Salamis (Medicine Chest Against Heresies 26:5:2), and Clement of Alexandria's clear comments on the necessary openness of each and every sexual act to procreation (The Instructor of Children 2:10:91 and 2:10:95). If all the Fathers who expressed specific opinions on the issue of contraception up until and around the time of St John Chrysostom's writing were explicitly opposed to contraception, would not St John Chrysostom have been a little more explicit if he truly condoned it? For these reasons, Gabriel's commentary appears to involve a non sequitur and the super-imposition of his own sympathies toward contraception onto St John Chrysostom's work.

What local churches condemn non-abortifacient contraception?

What local Churches, other than the Church of Greece in the early 20th c., condemn non-abotifacient means of contraception? The article shows that the OCA does not, and the Church of Russia does not (see The Basis of the Social Concept). The tone of the article makes it sound more up in the air than that. --Fr Lev (talk) 20:04, June 21, 2018 (UTC)

Synopsis Unacceptable

I find the synopsis misleading and unsubstantiated. No source is given for this claim, which I fail to see the logic of: "Some also hold that the Fathers of the Church have not expressed opinions on the "moment" at which life begins, so that our clear distinctions between non-abortifacient and abortifacient contraception are anachronistic, and would not have existed in the minds of the Fathers. Consequently, these also hold that as a result, the Fathers' condemnation extends to all contraceptive methods."

A number of opens are listed by name with no sourcing. I have seen an interview with Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev where he lists "contraception" as something uncritically accepted in the secular world, but I'd need to see something more definitive to indicate he dissents from the official teaching of the Russian Church, which permits (non-abortifacient) contraception. --Fr Lev (talk) 21:11, June 21, 2018 (UTC)

I wrote that, and admit that “some also hold” is a lazy construction when no source is given. I can’t at this time find a source for this point. However, I hold this view. And if the statement is made that “no Church Fathers have expressed an opinion as to a moment at which life begins”, the burden of proof is on those who believe that they have done so to demonstrate that a Church Father has offered such an opinion. Consequently, I’ll revise that construction in the article.
As for the logic and relevance of this point, it goes something like this:
Step 1: Abortifacient contraceptives are those that take the life of a new, unborn, human being, as opposed to non-abortifacient contraceptives which merely prevent that life from being formed.
Step 2: To know what kinds of contraceptives are abortifacient requires a definition of when life begins (e.g. existing within sperm themselves vs. beginning after sperm have entered the womb vs. at “quickening” vs. when the newborn first takes a breath).
Step 3: No Church Father expressed an opinion about a single moment at which life began (I think Augustine believed in progressive ensoulment, but no single moment).
Conclusion: There is no evidence that Church Fathers were interested in whether efforts at preventing sex resulting in a child involved preventing that life being formed, or destroying it once formed. They don’t comment on a moment at which life begins. I.e. the distinction between abortifacience and non-abortifacience did not mean anything to them. Therefore, proscriptions regarding “sterilising the womb” and “acting to prevent their beginning to live” (Chrysostom’s 24th Homily on Romans and 28th on Mathew respectively), in addition to those condemning the “murdering of a man not born” (Jerome, Letters 22:13) can be taken together as a general rejection of any attempt to prevent sex from bearing the fruit of children.
About which opens are you particularly concerned?. I can’t speak for the citing of Metropolitan Alfeyev – that wasn’t my contribution.
Had a quick browse out of curiosity on Metrapolitan Hilarion Alfeyev's thoughts on contraception. http://ww1.antiochian.org: /node/17198 : "We are being told that abortion is acceptable, contraception is agreeable, and euthanasia is better still, and that the church must accommodate all these 'values' in the name of human rights." This would imply that he believes that contraception is not agreeable. I'll accept that this isn't a strongly worded denunciation, but it does seem to be a disapproval. A similar position seems to be expressed here http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles-2009/Hilarion-Orthodox-Mission-In-The-21st-Century.php: "The modern battle between traditional Christianity on the one hand and secularism, liberalism and relativism on the other is primarily centred round the question of values. It is not a theological argument, because it is not the existence of God that is debated: it is the existence of an absolute moral norm, on which human life should be founded, that is put into question. The contest has an anthropological character, and it is the present and future of humanity that is at stake. By defending life, marriage and procreation, by struggling against legalization of contraception, abortion and euthanasia, against recognition of homosexual unions as equal to marital ones, against libertinage in all forms, the traditional Christians are engaged in a battle for survival of the Christian civilization and of those peoples who until recently identified themselves with Christianity."

As the late Orthodox bioethicist H. Tristram Engelhardt wrote, "Despite detailed considerations of sexual offenses by ecumenical councils, and by generally accepted local councils, and despite a recognition that marriage is oriented toward reproduction, there is no condemnation of limiting births, apart from the condemnation of abortion" (The Foundations of Christian Bioethics, 265).

There is no justification for the personal opinion that "Consequently these Fathers' condemnation may extend to all contraceptive methods." I strongly object. --Fr Lev (talk) 15:16, June 22, 2018 (UTC)

If you wish to preserve the body of the text citing Fathers who opposed abortion, I'd suggest you move all thet to the Abortion article.

I agree with Tristram Engelhardt: there are no canons by local or ecumenical councils which seem to condemn what we'd consider non-abortifacient contraceptives. However, an absence of condemnation does not mean implicit approval. There are many moral issues which local and ecumenical councils do not cover. However I do object to the inclusion of Paul Evdokimov's quote. That there is no reference to non-abortifacient contraception (if that is what he refers to as "birth control") in the "Age of the Fathers" is plainly wrong. Where the two forms of non-abortifacient contraception that were available in the "Age of the Fathers" are discussed by Church Fathers (coitus interruptus by St. Jerome (Against Jovinian 1:19) and St Clement of Alexandria (The Instructor of Children 2:10:91:2), and NFP by St Augustine (Chapter 18, Of the Symbol of the breast, and the Shameful Mysteries of the Manicheans)), they are condemned. No dissenting voice is heard from the Fathers. I strongly suggest that you demonstrate that all three of these men were not Church Fathers, or that I have misinterpreted their words, or remove that quote of Evdokimov's.
Perhaps I've worded my comments on the distinction between abortofacience and non-abortifacience less than clearly. As I've pointed out in the previous paragraph, where the Fathers speak of the only two available methods that we would recognise as purely non-abortifacient (NFP and coitus interruptus), they speak in condemnation. As far as I know, barrier contraception, while experimented with, was not a widely available method. The only other available method for preventing pregnancy (apart from violent measures such as tightly banding the pregnant abdomen or stabbing the uterus) was chemical/herbal. While some of the Fathers' references to such chemical methods seem clearly to refer to their destroying a child that is being formed in the womb after the sexual act that gave rise to it,others seem to also include the idea that these methods were also used to "sterilise" the womb to prevent this process from being initiated (St Chrysostom in his 24th Homily on Romans and Caeserius in his first Sermon). We should keep in mind that there was no single prevailing scientific model for how conception took place in the "Age of the Fathers". As I understand it, there was the Hippocratic/Galenic "two semen" model (closer to our own), whereby both male and female contributed components to the child-in-formation, and also the Aristotelian "one semen model", in which the male semen was the only component of the early child-in-formation and was planted in the fertile soil of the womb during sex (the problem of when "human personhood" began was a separate issue). The Fathers do not weigh into these scientific debates. They merely condemn all chemical means, whether taken before sex to prevent pregnancy, or taken after sex to destroy the contents of the womb. I'll try to revise the relevant paragraph in the synopsis to better reflect this point in the next few days.
It's 2pm on Saturday where I am (although I'm guessing it's much earlier where you are). I propose taking a weekend holiday from this animated debate.


First, please sign your posts -- the signature and timestamp icon is above the text box to the right of the icon for Italics. Second, it is a gross misunderstanding of the incident with Onan to suppose the sin he committed was coitus interrupts -- his sin was refusing God's command to impregnate his sister-in-law. It was also St Jerome's mistranslation of Romans 5/12 that saddled the West with the problem of original guilt, so he isn't the best source for establishing patristic doctrine. Third, I don't imagine that coitus interruptus was the only option available. he ancients employed all sorts of methods to avoid pregnancy, including barrier methods. They also used early version of rhythm method. When one does find criticism of contraception, it would seem aimed at motives other than family planning.

Which raises a question as to the overall point you are trying to make -- do you believe that all contraception is prohibited, or simply artificial methods? --Fr Lev (talk) 14:04, June 23, 2018 (UTC)

There is more to be said about Clement of Alexandria, but I don't believe that Eastern Orthodoxy considers him a saint, and he is not reckoned as a particularly influential figure. St Photos the Great deemed numerous ideas of his to be heretical. Again, not a figure on which to put a great deal of weight in seeking to determine patristic teaching. St John Chrysostom seems a better bet for a figure to consider, and he didn't think child-bearing was essential to marriage. But more to the point is how the Orthodox Church has received and understood the testimony of Fathers. I would say that the Church has not understood the odd reference to be a condemnation of family planning per se, as the particular comments tend to be about avoiding the consequence of sexual immorality or the issue of abortifacient methods. Apart from those sorts of issues, the silence of the Church on this is deafening. --Fr Lev (talk) 14:21, June 23, 2018 (UTC)

1. Sorry for not signing and timestamping, I didn’t know how that worked. I’ll try to remember to do so for all future posts.
2. While Onan’s sin included his refusal to fulfil his levirate responsibilities, Jerome clearly believes that both this refusal and his actively preventing his sexual act from bearing fruit resulted in his death: “But I wonder why he set Judah and Tamar before us for an example, unless perchance even harlots give him pleasure; or Onan who was slain because he grudged his brother seed. Does he imagine that we approve of any sexual intercourse except for the procreation of children?” (Against Jovianus 1:20. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/30091.htm)
3. While Jerome may or may not have made translational errors, this would not compromise his capacity to rule on moral issues. Thus his view on coitus interruptus cannot be dismissed on this basis.
4. Given points 2) and 3), the challenge regarding Evdokimov’s quote stands unmet, not to mention your silence on St. Augustine.
5. Please supply evidence for the existence of the barrier method west of China prior to the 15th century. I think that there is none.
6. The rhythm method is one and the same as “natural family planning”. As I’ve mentioned earlier, the only voice to speak on “natural family planning” was St. Augustine, who condemned it. If a Church Father had approved of it, why wouldn’t any have spoken up?
7. St. Caeserius of Arles clearly seems to refer to some form of family planning in his attack on contraception, and not just to extra-marital sex: "Who is he who cannot warn that no woman may take a potion so that she is unable to conceive or condemns in herself the nature which God willed to be fecund? As often as she could have conceived or given birth, of that many homicides she will be held guilty, and, unless she undergoes suitable penance, she will be damned by eternal death in hell. If a woman does not wish to have children, let her enter into a religious agreement with her husband; for chastity is the sole sterility of a Christian woman." (Sermons 1:12)
8. The point I’m making is that there is a Patristic consensus against the use of any form of contraception. If this is the case, then modern Local Orthodox Churches, where they have endorsed contraception, have strayed from this consensus. Notable in those local Church documents that endorse contraception is a lack of any substantial engagement with those Patristic sources (and there are more than a handful) which would seem to contradict their endorsement. They are not “received” – they are simply ignored.
9. No form of contraception has been endorsed by Church Fathers. As for the rhythm method vs. artificial methods, these seem to differ in degree of deviation from the ideal form of sex, but not in quality.
10. You rightly point out that Clement of Alexandria’s status within the church has been disputed based on certain of his theological errors. However, his moral proscriptions were never questioned.
11. Again you cite St John Chrysostom in a questionable way. Just because St John Chrysostom believed that a marriage which was barren was not invalid, and just because he believed that the potential for producing children was not the only good (or even the highest good) about marital sex, does not mean he endorsed sexual acts which actively prevented the possibility of children resulting from them.
12. The Church does not need to constantly chatter about an issue when there is an obvious Patristic consensus. The silence isn’t deafening, but appropriately comes after a period of expression of unanimous opinion. --Gmharvey (talk) 07:51, June 24, 2018 (UTC)

Are you a Roman Catholic? I find it odd that any Orthodox would think that the Orthodox Church based its view on marriage and procreation n St Augustine, St Jerome, or Clement of Alexandria, all of whom had views on marriage rejected by the Orthodox Church. And it is un-Orthodox in the extreme to imagine that finding an isolated text in those figures on coitus interrupts somehow established the mindset of "the Father."--Fr Lev (talk) 13:49, June 25, 2018 (UTC)

As for the barrier method: "The Egyptian Ebers Papyrus from 1550 BC and the Kahun Papyrus from 1850 BC have within them some of the earliest documented descriptions of birth control: the use of honey, acacia leaves and lint to be placed in the vagina to block sperm.[128][129] It is believed that in Ancient Greece silphium was used as birth control which, due to its effectiveness and thus desirability, was harvested into extinction" Wikipedia. Egypt is certainly west of China, adjacent to the Holy Land, a center of early Christianity, and that would be about a couple of millennia earlier than you suppose. --Fr Lev (talk) 14:02, June 25, 2018 (UTC)

I am not a Roman Catholic – I am Eastern Orthodox. While there might be a contradiction between St John Chrysostom and these other Fathers (St Augustine, St Jerome and Clement of Alexandria) on the importance of the unitive purpose of sex, there are no contradictions concerning what kind of sex constitutes bad sex – that which tries to actively sterilise sexual acts. Insofar as there is disagreement, there are sides to be taken (and I subscribe to Chrysostom’s picture of marital sex rather than Augustine’s), however there is no disagreement on the role of contraception.
I don’t take an isolated text concerning coitus interruptus. I take a holistic picture of the Fathers' approach to sex, including St John Chrysostom, St Caeserius of Arles, St Jerome, St Augustine, Clement of Alexandria, Lactantius and St. Epiphanius of Salamis, who all condemned some form or other of sex in which there was an active attempt to prevent that sexual act from creating a child. I then see that no Church Fathers endorsed a single form of sex in which there is such an active attempt. I then conclude that the most accurate description of a consensus patrum is that any attempt to sterilise an act of marital sex was found unacceptable.
Do you suggest that St John Chrysostom was unaware of the criticism of forms of contraception by contemporary Church figures and those who lived before him? Or do you suggest that he was aware, and chose not to contradict those figures or their beliefs? Either option seems unlike St John, who was well-educated and unafraid of being controversial, or speaking truth to power.
Thank you for informing me of this evidence, and the lesson in geography. I’ll note that silphium is thought to be have been used in a manner that we’d recognise as abortifacient today (inducing miscarriage). More specifically, can you find evidence of the use of barrier contraception between the 1st and 15th centuries AD within Christian societies? The only thing I’m aware of is a legend about King Minos and a few Muslim and Jewish references (in the Middle Ages) to the use of substances such as tar and onion juice . Other than that, evidence is a little thin on the ground for an industry that one would think would’ve been very profitable, especially if it did (as you argue) provide Christians with one of the only methods of contraception which supposedly hadn’t been condemned by the Church (which I don’t believe was the case). --Gmharvey (talk) 07:51, June 26, 2018 (UTC)


The 1937 Decision by the Church of Greece

The one local Church to condemn birth control that I know of was the Church of Greece in 1937. There is a story to that. In his book, Orthodoxy and the West, Christos Yannaras attributes the decision to the influence of Seraphim Papakostas (1972-1954), writing that Papakostas's books are characterized by "legalistic moralism, spiritual self-interest centered on the individual, and a reliance on a guilt-ransom-justification scheme of salvation.... he wrote like a Protestant pietist. In his book The Question of Conception, Papakostas faithfully follows Anglican and Roman Catholic opinions about contraception, presented as a quintessentially Orthodox view" [229-230). In footnote no. 386, he adds: "The misleading nature of Papakostas's book has been demonstrated by Stavropolous (1977). Papakostas's insidious influence even extended to the official publications of the hierarchy. A Church of Greece encyclical of October 1937 borrowed Papkostas's heterodox theses verbatim." The reference is to Alexandros Stavropolous, To provlima tis teknogonias kai i enkyklios tis Ekklisias tis Ellados [The Problem of Contraception and the Encyclical of the Church of Greece], Athens, 1977.

St Jerome et al on coitus interruptus

As I indicated above, the sin of Onan had to do with refusing his obligation to father a child with his brother's widow, and not the spilling of semen. St Epiphanius is the only Greek Father who, along with the Latin Father St Jerome, introduced the very unbiblical idea that Onan's sin was about spilt seed in itself. This was not considered a sin in the OT, and certainly not punishable by death. It was simply a matter of a ritual impurity requiring a ritual washing. Neither the Hebrew nor Greek of the verse (Gen 38.9) mention semen, simply saying that Onan "spilled on the ground." St Jerome adds the word "semen" to Vulgate Moreover, St Jerome betrays another unbiblical (and unorthodox) agenda when he immediately adds "Does he imagine that we approve of any sexual intercourse except for the procreation of children?" And the other fathers mentioned, St Augustine and Clement of Alexandria, are known for their Greek and unbiblical views on marriage, such as the idea that sexual intercourse can only be justified between a married couple if they are attempting to procreate. Augustine is well known for his belief that even a married couple having intercourse for the express purpose of procreation would sin if they enjoyed it. Even the Roman Catholic Church, despite following Augustine on many errors, didn't follow him quite this far! --Fr Lev (talk) 19:29, June 25, 2018 (UTC)

Please supply the reference to where St Epiphanius comments on Onan (not that I don’t believe you, I’m just not familiar with the passage). In any case, St Jerome clearly states that both Onan’s refusal to give his brother a child and his coitus interruptus were sinful. Not just one or just the other. While there’s no text in the OT that specifically states that coitus interruptus (or masturbation for that matter) is sinful, there are also no punishments prescribed for those brothers that refused to fulfil their levirate responsibilities. Nevertheless, Onan was killed.
    The Panarion of Epiphanius, on the section "Against the first type of Origenist, who are shameful as well." I'm afraid that Epiphanius, an avid heresy hunter, wasn't very good at it. One of his targets for a time was St John C.! Epiphanius also joined Jerome in siding with Paulinus (who had been ordained by Arians) and against St Meletius of Antioch, who was supported by the Eastern Church.  --Fr Lev (talk) 14:12, June 26, 2018 (UTC)
Thank you for the reference, although I've had trouble finding an online version of this section. Just because St Epiphanius ran counter to St John Chrysostom on certain issues doesn’t mean that we have to entirely discard one or the other theologian. Insofar as they directly contradicted one another on an issue, we should pick a side. However, on the issues on which they did not come into conflict we do not. This is not sufficient basis to disregard St Epiphanius’ views. St Cyril of Alexandria had some very strong words to say about St John Chrysostom after his death, including comparing him to Judas Iscariot – does this mean we should disregard all of St Cyril of Alexandria’s theological and moral views (or Chrysostom’s)? I think it’s a matter of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. --Gmharvey (talk) 08:09, June 27, 2018 (UTC)

You are ignoring the point that Spiphanius is the ONLY Greek Father to interpret Gen 38.9 as referring to contraception. He was obviously close to St Jerome, the first Latin Father to (mis) read Gen 38.9, ben siding with Jerome in the dispute between Paulinus and St Meletios of Antioch. --Fr Lev (talk) 13:37, June 27, 2018 (UTC)

I agree with you insofar as I don’t think that this verse in Genesis was written with the intent of offering a moral position on contraception. However, it clearly describes an occurrence of contraception. And when St Epiphanius (if he does - I still can’t find an online text. Can you?) and St Jerome read this passage, do either of them say that in this passage Moses clearly intends to communicate to us that contraception is wrong? I don’t think so. However, when referring to this passage, they comment that part of Onan’s immorality consisted in his perverting the sexual act by employing a contraceptive technique.
Furthermore, (I deny ignoring this) although these may be the only Fathers to comment in such a way on Gen 38.9, no Church Fathers contradict them in this commentary. Does any other Church Father even talk about Onan? Surely, if this were an erroneous commentary, it would have been rebutted or condemned by another Church Father? Yet, to my knowledge, no such thing occurred.
Again, I don’t see the significance of their association with Paulinus in the dispute with St Meletius. How does this affect their commentary on sexual ethics?--Gmharvey (talk) 08:49, June 28, 2018 (UTC)


The Septuagint for 38:9 does contain “to sperma” (twice), of which “semen” is a translation - both mean “seed”:
St Jerome’s: “ille sciens non sibi nasci filios introiens ad uxorem fratris sui semen fundebat in terram ne liberi fratris nomine nascerentur”
Septuagint: “γνοὺς δὲ Aυναν ὅτι οὐκ αὐτῷ ἔσται τὸ σπέρμα ἐγίνετο ὅταν εἰσήρχετο πρὸς τὴν γυναῖκα τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ ἐξέχεεν ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν τοῦ μὴ δοῦναι σπέρμα τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ”
I fail to see St. Jerome’s translational error. In any case, what else would Onan have been fundebat/ἐξέχεεν/spilling when he introiens/εἰσήρχετο/went in unto Tamar in order to not give σπέρμα for his brother?
    Actually. in point of fact both the Hebrew (zera)and Greek (sperma) terms used have multiple meanings, not limited to "semen." But in the verse in question, he doesn't make sense as "semen" but only as "offspring." Otherwise, in v. 8 Onan is told to raise up "semen" for his brother, and in v. 9, neither the Hebrew nor the Greek uses zera/sperma or any other to say what Onan spilled. So v. 9 says, "But because Onan knew that the offspring (zera/sperma) would not be his, it would come about that he would pour out upon the ground when he would go in to his brother's wife so that he would not give offspring (zera/sperma) to his brother." Neither occurrences of zera/sperma in v. 9 refer to semen. Jerome did add "semen" in v.9 to say what was spilt. --Fr Lev (talk) 21:02, June 26, 2018 (UTC)
Sure, sperma can mean other things, but what evidence is there pointing away from its implying “ejaculate” here? I ask you again: what else could Onan possibly have been spilling/pouring out/ἐξέχεεν onto the ground during the sexual act other than ejaculate? Orange juice, perhaps? --Gmharvey (talk) 08:09, June 27, 2018 (UTC)

You seem intent on misunderstanding. I don't deny that semen was what Onan spilt, but that is implied by the text -- Jerome added a word to the text in his "translation," a THIRD occurrence of vera/sperma. And I showed that the two actual occurrences in the text of zera/sperma cannot mean semen in this instance. If we follow your remarks just now, we get the mistranslation, "But because Onan knew that the ejaculate would not be his, it would come about that he would pour out upon the ground when he would go in to his brothers wife so that he would not give ejaculate to his brother." --Fr Lev (talk) 13:43, June 27, 2018 (UTC)

I don’t know what it means to suggest that I’m intent on misunderstanding. I either understand, or do not. In any case, that’s not what I mean. It seems that sperma in this passage implies both offspring (especially in its first occurrence) and ejaculate (especially in its second occurrence, along with the meaning of offspring). In any case, we both agree that this passage is conveying that Onan spilt his ejaculate on the ground instead of in the vagina of Tamar when he had sex with her, in order to avoid procreating a child that would legally be his brother’s. If we both agree that this is the meaning, what is the significance of St Jerome’s inclusion of “semen” as the direct object of “fundebat”? Surely none? --Gmharvey (talk) 08:49, June 28, 2018 (UTC)

You ares still misstating it. In Gen 38.9, there are two instances of zera/sperma, both of which refer to offspring. If the second instance referred to semen, as you just claimed, the text would read, "so that he would not give ejaculate to his brother." Jerome added a word to the text. which is something Orthodox don't generally like -- think filioque! I agree that it is implied by the text, but not specified. I say all this because you objected to my saying Jerome added the word, at which point you claimed the verse mentions vera/sperma twice -- it does, but in neither case does it refer to semen. I'm happy to let this question of what is in the verse end as long a you stop claiming that either instance of zera/sperma in the MT or LXX refers to semen. --Fr Lev (talk) 14:34, June 28, 2018 (UTC)

Translation is a more complex task than replacing each word in the passage from one language with an identical or near-identical word in another. One problem (among others) encountered is that words in a text to be translated often have a primary meaning and certain additional connations. Here sperma (especially in the second instance) seems to mean offspring but also have this extra connotation, in the context of Onan’s sex with Tamar, of ejaculate (i.e. sperm). This is well-captured by the archaic use of the english word “seed”, which like sperma, has both of these connotations. Onan refuses to give his sperm during sex for his brother (i.e. in service of his brother), and he refuses to give his brother offspring in doing so.
I think Orthodox Christians (and anyone else) should be concerned when a word is added to a text which seems to change that text’s meaning. The incorporation of the Filioque into the creed in Rome in the 11th century was concerning because it involved changing the meaning of this phrase to something new (and confusing), and because it was done unilaterally, without consultation with other local churches through a council (and done without justification, seemingly with the purpose of pleasing the powerful Holy Roman Empire). In contrast, Jerome’s inclusion of “semen” as a direct object of “fundebat”, where in the Greek it was merely implied, only clarifies the meaning of the relevant text. --Gmharvey (talk) 11:37, June 29, 2018 (UTC)


I’m not sure what you mean by “Greek” views on marriage? Please elaborate. Also, how is approval of contraception any less unbiblical than its condemnation (by Jerome or whomever)? No verse either directly approves of or condemns its use. Is everything that isn’t forbidden in the bible moral, or edifying for the Christian? It should also be noted that “for the procreation of children” does not necessarily mean that its enjoyment it to be precluded, just that it is naturally oriented towards this (i.e. procreation is at least one of its teloi), and that actively preventing sex from leading to procreation would be unnatural. This, I argue, is very Orthodox, and very Patristic.
   I had in mind Stoicism, and Clement's unbiblical view that "the law intended husbands to cohabit with their wives with self-control and only for the purpose of begetting children" (Stromateis 3.11.71). 
   The only verse in the entire Bible that can be twisted to be about contraception is Gen 39.9. It isn't. I'm not claiming that the Bible endorses contraception. No, everything that isn't forbidden in the Bible isn't moral, which is why we rely on the Church and not individuals basing their teaching on a verse of scripture that doesn't really say what they want it to say. I'm quite content with the state of the question as it is summarized in the Engelhardt quote. The Church has never condemned limiting births other than by abortion. Period. --Fr Lev (talk) 14:12, June 26, 2018 (UTC)
Just because there are similarities between an opinion by a Father and those of a philosophical movement, does not mean that that Church Father was entirely under the sway of that philosophical movement such that their views became unorthodox. There are similarities between Christianity doctrine and Stoicism, especially in the terms they've used to express beliefs (I'm thinking particularly of logos) - that does not mean that Christianity is just some mutant form of Stoicism.
Genesis 38.9 does not in and of itself condemn contraception. However, when Church Fathers have read this passage and expressed their opinion on what was evil about Onan’s act, one of the things they bring up is that this was an unnatural form of sex.
When you say that the “Church has never condemned limiting births other than by abortion”, do you mean that the Church's expression of its views is exhausted by its conciliar canons and local church documents? Does a group of Church Fathers’ views not register with you?--Gmharvey (talk) 08:09, June 27, 2018 (UTC)
Again, insofar as St. Augustine may have expressed views about the sinfulness of enjoying marital sex, he runs directly counter to St. John Chrysostom (whose views I would subscribe to). On the issue of the appropriateness of contraception, he does not contradict St. John. --Gmharvey (talk) 07:51, June 26, 2018 (UTC)
    Augustine also runs counter to St John C. on having children. For Augustine, the only purpose of sex is to have children. For St John, and the Orthodox tradition at large, the primary purpose of marriage has to do with the couple. It is Augustne's error, that seems to be repeated by those who would endorse the dissenting view you describe as prohibiting even natural means fo family planning. I still think if you want to include the dissenting views, you need to attach some evidence. --Fr Lev (talk) 14:16, June 26, 2018 (UTC)
Yes, this is Augustine’s ideal and it runs counter to St John C’s views on the primary purpose of sex, as I’ve said. Interestingly, Augustine does allow for another view: ”I am supposing, then, although you are not lying [with your wife] for the sake of procreating offspring, you are not for the sake of lust obstructing their procreation by an evil prayer or an evil deed. Those who do this, although they are called husband and wife, are not; nor do they retain any reality of marriage, but with a respectable name cover a shame.” (Marriage and Concupiscence 1:15:17 [A.D. 419]). It is that second view that he finds acceptable (that sex which is not performed purely for the sake of procreation but is at least open to procreation and not trying to obstruct it is acceptable) which does not contradict Chrysostom’s picture of marital sex.
What do you mean by "attach evidence" to justify including the dissenting view? A local council? A local church statement? An Orthodox theologian/writer? An Orthodox clergyman? An Orthodox layman with no formal theological qualifications? Which of these is valid in justifying including the dissenting view, and which invalid?--Gmharvey (talk) 08:09, June 27, 2018 (UTC)

The Augustinian position you describe is laughable. Why would a couple have sex except in a fertile period given that pleasure derided from sex is (for Augustine) intrinsically sinful? There wouldn't be anything particularly "unitive" about sex that avoided pleasure. And, since he says that procreation is the only good that can come from sex, there is no point to sex outside of a fertile period. When I spoke of attaching evidence, I meant a cite to show that there are Orthodox who hold that view. In an earlier post, you conceded that saying "some hold" is a lazy construction when you have no source and only the justification that it is your personal view. --Fr Lev (talk) 12:54, June 27, 2018 (UTC)

Sure, this second position of Augustine’s is in conflict with his usual line. That may just indicate that he had some doubts about his usual position, given that he could find sex that didn’t consciously avoid procreation (and so was motivated by a unitive purpose) acceptable. St Augustine is known to have revised some of his earlier positions.
Yes, it’s a lazy construction. Perhaps I should remove “there are those who hold the view” and just start the sentence with “that one of sex’s natural purposes…”. I thinks it’s reasonable to append to this dissenting position a statement that no modern bishops or local churches have publicly endorsed such a position. However, I hold this position, as do others I know personally. For this reason I don’t think the statement requires a citation (I’m sure you believe me when I say that I hold this dissenting position and am an Orthodox Christian – or do you need to see my baptismal certificate?). --Gmharvey (talk) 08:49, June 28, 2018 (UTC)

I believe you. It's just that without sourcing, it sounds like "I and a few people I know believe X." One could say "I know a few Orthodox friends who believe that it's fine to be married and to choose not to have kids solely for selfish reasons." I wouldn't post that, even if true, because I don't see it as a recognizable Orthodox view, even a minority one. Is there a synod, a church father, an Orthodox theologian, etc., who has put forth such a view? Is it recognizable as an Orthodox view, or is it just an opinion that a few Orthodox you know happen to hold? --Fr Lev (talk) 11:18, June 29, 2018 (UTC)

I've argued that it is the only recognisable Orthodox view when one looks holistically at the Fathers who’ve commented on sex and contraception, but if you do not agree, then I’m not sure I can stop you from removing it. No synods or Orthodox theologians that I know of have expressed it in this manner, to their discredit. --Gmharvey (talk) 11:37, June 29, 2018 (UTC)

Dissenting position #1

"1) There are those who hold the view that one of sex's natural purposes is the procreation of children (i.e. sex is naturally oriented towards or "for" procreation), and that to actively separate the procreative aspect of sex from its purpose of uniting husband and wife (by natural family planning or artificial contraceptive methods) is to distort it.' Doesn't this amount to the proposition that a married couple should only have sex when they think they can become pregnant, which reduces sex to the five or six days of fertility only? And doesn't this raise the procreative purpose to become a necessary condition of marriage? It seems to collapse into Augustine's view that having children is "the only worthy fruit" of a couple's sexual intercourse. --Fr Lev (talk) 14:46, June 26, 2018 (UTC)

No it doesn’t amount to that proposition. It means that a couple shouldn’t actively shouldn’t try to obstruct procreation by using a form of contraception. Any period of the menstrual cycle would be an acceptable time, as long as the couple weren’t deliberately avoiding certain periods in order to prevent children resulting. I don’t see how it collapses into St Augustine’s view – there is a procreative purpose to sex and a unitive (uniting husband and wife in a loving act). Marital union and pleasure is a worthy fruit of that intercourse, but only if they're not actively divorced from openness to procreation. I don’t know what you mean by “raise the procreative purpose to become a necessary condition to marriage?” I think an openness and desire for children is a necessary condition for marriage (and an act of sex) in this view, however fertility may not be.--Gmharvey (talk) 08:09, June 27, 2018 (UTC)

On your position, then, there is no justification for a couple to marry who knows they are unable to have children. You say the openness to and desire for children is a "necessary condition" for marriage. --Fr Lev (talk) 12:56, June 27, 2018 (UTC)

There absolutely is such a justification. Openness (not a physiological potential, but a psychological/emotional openness) and desire for children are necessary conditions for marriage in my position. An infertile couple may know that they are infertile, however still be open to and desire to have children. As a result, this position would not preclude them from marrying. Scripture and Tradition seem to imply that Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Rachel, Elkinah and Hannah, and Zachariah and Elizabeth did not cease having marital relations after realising that there was a problem with their fertility. Adoption would seem a natural option for such couples. --Gmharvey (talk) 08:49, June 28, 2018 (UTC)

But your requirement simply for "openness" to procreation is satisfied by dissenting position #2. What I'm focusing on (for now, at least) is #1. If procreation is a "necessary" condition of marriage, that means a couple incapable of having a child together (through primary or secondary infertility, or menopause, or any number of medical reasons), then they will never be really married, because they cannot fulfill a necessary condition of marriage. Adoption is not procreation, and not a single father East or West has suggested a requirement that an infertile couple adopt. Which means that procreation cannot be a necessary condition of marriage. One can hold, as the Orthodox tradition does, that procreation is normative nut not necessary for marriage. And the biblical witnesses you give on sex despite infertility make the case against the view that procreation is the only good thing in sex -- the view held by Augustine and Clement of Alexandria, both of whom believed that desire for one's spouse was sinful. On these points, these fathers depart from the Orthodox tradition. I think it is difficult for an Orthodox person to defend dissenting position #1 which is one reason I'd like to see some sourcing here. If there are indeed Orthodox who hold #1, I'd like to see citation; something published in support of the claim. --Fr Lev (talk) 13:28, June 28, 2018 (UTC)

I’m not sure you understand this position or what is meant by “openness to procreation”, which may be the result of my poor explanation. If you do end up removing this dissenting position, I hope at least that you only do so after understanding it. According to position #1, only sex which does not involve an active/conscious attempt to prevent that sex from resulting in a child being conceived is acceptable. I.e., each and every sexual act has to not be associated with some deliberate attempt to prevent conception. As a result, natural family planning, wherein there is a deliberate and conscious effort to only have sex during infertile periods, would be unacceptable. As a result, this position differs from position #2, in which natural family planning is deemed unacceptable.
According to position #1, procreation itself is not necessary for marriage to be “valid” or “good”, but a desire for procreation and an appropriate engagement in marital relations are! Each of these biblical and Traditonal witnesses involves couples who want children but cannot have them! They do not involve couples consciously evading children, or happy about their infertility. It is not the children themselves that are necessary for a Christian marriage, but the intention for children, and not trying to frustrate sex’s natural tendency to result in children.
I have argued above that it is the only recognisably Orthodox view when one looks holistically at the Fathers who’ve commented on sex and contraception, but if you do not, then I’m not sure I can stop you from removing it. No synods or Orthodox theologians that I know of have expressed it in this manner, to their discredit.--Gmharvey (talk) 11:37, June 29, 2018 (UTC)

You say that #1 is different from #2 because #1 involves abstinence only, whereas #2 involves NFP. Since NFP uses only abstinence, it would seem that you need to define the abstinence in #1 more clearly. The content of the action (or rather, inaction) is exactly the same. So if the only salient difference is the intention behind the non-action, don't you need to say more than simply that the intent cannot properly be to plan the timing or number of children conceived? What precise intentions would make it okay? What about a married woman who is told by her doctor that another pregnancy would likely kill her? #1 would mean no sex with her husband, at least until after menopause, perhaps decades away? And do you restrict this to only married individuals having sex together? While the Church clearly teaches that sex belongs only within marriage, does the belief that every act of sexual intercourse must be open to procreation trump all other moral values? Should a person who, while sinning by having sex outside of marriage, never use contraception to avoid pregnancy or disease because the procreation is always more important than mitigating the potential consequences? And what of a husband who, perhaps through a blog transfusion, has contracted HIV. Are he and his wife doomed to abstinence only and, even then, only if they are morally certain that no thoughts of contraception enter their heads? --Fr Lev (talk) 11:48, June 29, 2018 (UTC)

#1 is also different from #2 in that it offers some kind of coherent picture for what kind of sex is the Christian ideal (and why) and how other forms (fall short). #2 differs in that it seems to arbitrarily include one form of contraception while excluding others.
NFP clearly involves a different kind of abstinence to the abstinence involving a longer period of time than a few menstrual cycles. You can’t separate actions and (non-actions) from intentions. In NFP, there is a co-ordinated plan to intentionally only have sex during sterile periods. Openness (the absence of any attempt to divorce procreation from sex) is the precise intention that would “make” such sex “okay”.
This is the ideal – perhaps there are grave circumstances in which dispensations can be given, but they would have to be examined on a case-by-case basis. I don’t know what you mean exactly by “trump all moral values”?

Let’s look at each of your cases:

1. A married woman told by her doctor that a pregnancy would likely kill her: contraceptive techniques have failure rates, so that even sex with such contraceptives would involve putting the woman’s life in danger. The natural approach seems to be abstinence, or removing the defective/diseased organ which is putting her life in such danger (e.g. a deformed fallopian tube likely to result in ectopic pregnancies or a uterus with a weakened wall that is vulnerable to rupture).
2. Extra-marital sex: Why would a person who is having extra-marital sex and thereby knowingly transgressing the Church’s moral standards want to follow the Church’s instruction on contraception? Are we concerned that people who don’t subscribe to the Church’s standard that sex should only be inside marriage might accidentally just subscribe to the Church’s standards on contraception? This would not seem to be a concern.
3. Husband with accidental HIV: This case is similar to #1. While sex with barrier contraception would reduce the risk of transmission, it would still involve putting his wife’s life in danger, given the risk of breakage. Ideally, this couple would abstain (I’m not sure what your aside about “thoughts of contraception” meant), or obtain treatment (which I understand is prohibitively expensive in some countries) that would so reduce the husband’s viral load that he became effectively unable to transmit the disease to his wife. "
Perhaps there are circumstances of extreme financial strain in which contraception might be allowed (ideally NFP – I agree that of the contraceptive methods, this seems the least transgressive of the ideal set forth in #1). However, here the greater sin lies with the Orthodox community of which that couple are a part for not offering financial assistance to this couple.
"Doomed to abstinence"? From what tradition does that concept arise?
I’d also like to revise my earlier statement: No synods or Orthodox theologians that I know of have expressed this position. But could you find a single Orthodox bishop that would excommunicate someone for holding this position? Surely the lack of such a bishop is evidence for this position being a valid Orthodox dissenting position.--Gmharvey (talk) 02:55, June 30, 2018 (UTC)

For now, since I am short on time this weekend, you have some odd notions about theology and heresy! Just because no synod has endorsed a position does not mean it is therefore consistent with Orthodox theology, praxis, or tradition. Bishops don't excommunicate people for holding a theologoumenon, but for stubbornly teaching something that is explicitly contrary to the defined Faith. I am not saying #1 is heretical, only that I don't see it as a recognizably Orthodox position. It posits a view of contraception that, despite its biologically deterministic view of natural law, even the Roman Catholic Church doesn't hold. And you haven't offered any evidence that it is held as a view within Orthodox tradition beyond yourself and a few people you know. OrthodoxWiki is not about expressing purely private opinions, but about documenting -- with sources whenever possible -- Orthodox Christianity. There must be at least a handful of Orthodox Christians in the world who are flat-earthers, or who are 9/11 truthers, or who hold that we never landed on the moon, or that it is immoral to wear tie-dye jeans (a fundamentalist school near me has held that), but none of those are recognizably views held in the Orthodox tradition, even if a bishop would not excommunicate someone for holding them. --Fr Lev (talk) 11:42, June 30, 2018 (UTC)

Fair enough, I’m about to go away for a week myself. I think there’s a difference between #1 and 9/11 truthers etc: that #1 arguably represents what Church Fathers have said about contraception, whereas 9/11 truthers’ beliefs have no grounding in Church Tradition. Admittedly, some Church Fathers have been flat-earthers (e.g. St John Chrysostom), however the Church Fathers aren’t great sources for scientific models of the world (but are great sources for moral instruction). In any case, I’ve now included a source for #1 , an article written by an Orthodox theologian. Will this do?
I’m not sure what you mean by “biological determinism”, and “even the Catholic Church” – please clarify. I understood biological determinism as referring to the belief that people’s behaviours are predominantly governed by their biological make-up (genes, physiology etc.), as opposed to their environment (i.e. nature vs. nurture). Are you using the term in some other sense that is unfamiliar to me?

Hayward article

While I wouldn’t classify Hayward as an Orthodox theologian, and while this wasn’t published in an academic or even popular journal, at least it is "something." However, there are numerous problems with this flawed piece of polemics. Off the top of my head: 1. He writes, “As Orthodox, I have somewhat grave concerns about my own Church, which condemned contraception before 1970 but in recent decades appears to have developed a “new consensus” more liberal than the Catholic position.” This is patently false. Apart from the case of the Church of Greece’s 1937 encyclical (which does not support his condemnation of NFP), he argues on the basis of individual church fathers — not the Church, which has never issued a decree against limiting the number of children out of unselfish reasons. 2. He claims, ““The Orthodox Church has issued such statements {about contraception) more than once.” Name them. And, more precisely, name them that condemn even NFP, as Hayward does. 3. Strangely, despite having claimed that the Church has spoken many times against contraception, he complains: “And so for Zaphiris to point out that the Orthodox Church has never “defined” a statement about contraception—a point that would be obvious to someone knowing what sorts of things the Church does not “define;” “defining” a position against murder would, for some definitions of “define,” be like drinking a sandwich—and lead the reader to believe that the Church has never issued a highly authoritative statement about contraception. The Orthodox Church has issued such statements more than once. Saying that the Orthodox Church has never “defined” a position on a moral question is as silly and as pointless as saying that a man has never drunk a roast beef sandwich: it is technically true, but sheds no light on whether a person has consumed such a sandwich—or taken a stand on the moral question at hand. Zaphiris’s “observation” is beginning to smell a lot like spin doctoring.” In addition to trying to use a severely narrow definition of “define,” he undercuts his own claim that the Church has spoken authoritatively about contraception, and he is also wrong about the Church not doing so on other moral issues, concerning which the Church in ecumenical council (e.g., the Quinisext Council on abortion, AD 692) and individual synods on abortion, homosexual marriage, etc. 4. He quotes from Zaphiris: “We have offered these remarks in the hope that they can contribute to a common basis for an ecumenical discussion on the contemporary human problem of contraception.” Hayward replies, “Orthodox who are concerned with ecumenism may wish to take note of this statement of authorial intent.” In other words, any readers who are worried about the alleged “heresy” of ecumenism, should dismiss this article. That’s a fallacious attempt to discredit the article. 5. He also mischaracterizes and impugns the article as “lobbyist” in nature. 6. He seems to trace Orthodox what he would incorrectly describe as the “post-1970”) view of contraception to this article. Evokimov wrote in 1962, citing a Russian article from 1960, and Phillip Sherrard wrote his reply to Humane Vitae in 1969. 7. He argues that the prohibition of even NFP is “absolute,” and that it “admits no oikonomia in its observation,” adding that, even if it did allow economy in its application, it would be leniency in applying a “grave moral principle.” 8. He follows St Jerome, et al., in supposing Gen 38.9 to be about contraception, which it is not, missing that Leviticus indicates that spilling seen is a matter of ritual impurity only, requiring only a ritual bath, and not the “death penalty” the story says God enacts against Onan. 9. In response to Zaphiris’s argument from scripture about the right to sexual relations within marriage (1 Cor 7.4-5), Hayward attacks not the argument but the fact that Zaphiris used the word “right,” which leads Hayward to go down a several-paragraph rabbit trail on rights’ based moral claims that don’t touch Zaphiris’s point. 10. He empathies quotations from St John Chrysostom that are not clearly on point, such as from his 24th homily on Romans, which is arguably only about abortions and abortifacient contraception. He doesn’t acknowledge that when St John Chrysostom does talk about Onan, he does not identify his sin as one of contraception. I do not claim to subscribe to every one of the reasons Hayward gives in his article. The main point of citing him was to give an example of another Orthodox Christian who’d independently come to a similar position on contraception as myself (to this end I’ve added another source to the article). I sympathise with a number of Hayward’s points, and disagree with others.

I too don’t follow his “roast beef sandwich” analogy or his reference to ecumenism. Nor do I think he’s accurate on the “pre-1970” point, as you’ve pointed out. However the point in its more accurate form still stands: i.e. is there a single Orthodox figure (council, bishop, theologian, layman) that endorses any form of contraception as acceptable pre-20th century? That point, with its implication that local Orthodox churches have been insidiously affected by the sexual revolution of the 20th century, remains unmet.
How does point 7 of yours relate to this article being a “flawed piece of polemics”?
Regarding point 8, I’m not sure what you mean by Gen 38.9 not being “about contraception”? It clearly involves an act of contraception. No Church Fathers that I know of have claimed that Onan was slain purely for an act of contraception. However some have in their commentary noted that Onan’s use of a contraceptive method was an unnatural thing. As for Leviticus, the ritual purity laws contained therein regarding spilling of seed would seem to refer to voluntary emission of semen within the sexual act (not coitus interruptus) or to an involuntary emission (i.e. nocturnal emission).
Regarding point 9, regardless of whether Hayward’s quarrel with right-based morality is relevant (I’m inclined to agree that it doesn’t seem so), Zaphiris’ argument from scripture seems fairly tenuous – it’s the same old non-sequitur of “sex isn’t only about procreation but also marital unity, therefore it’s fine to actively remove any procreative potential from a sexual act”.
Regarding point 10, I found Hayward's point that Chrysostom condemned medicines of “atokia” in the 24th Homily to the Romans interesting – the implication being that this was a more general word for medications that prevented “tokia” or childbearing (i.e. an umbrella term for contraceptives and abortifacients). As for Chrysostom’s discussion of Onan, where exactly does he do so? I’m interested in looking at such a passage. Even so, if there wasn’t an explicit identification of Onan as sinning in using coitus interruptus, that wouldn’t constitute an endorsement.
I was also interested by Hayward’s quotation of St Gregory of Nyssa, no confidante of Jerome’s, Epiphanius’ or Augustine’s - I didn’t know that he also expressed an opinion on sex within marriage which emphasised the importance of its procreative aspect. What did you think of that? Or of St Nicodemus the Hagiorite’s identification of the Sin of Onan with the spilling of seed (see other source I’ve now included for dissenting position 1)? Or of St Maximus the Confessor’s comments: “In relation to women, for example, sexual intercourse, rightly used, has as its purpose the begetting of children. He, therefore, who seeks in it only sensual pleasure uses it wrongly, for he reckons as good what is not good. When such a man has intercourse with a woman, he misuses her.” (400 Chapters on love)?
I’d also be interested in the criteria you use to classify or identify theologians. --Gmharvey (talk) 11:12, July 9, 2018 (UTC)

This is taking too much time, so just a few remarks. (1) No one is asking that sex between a couple is unrelated to procreation, all things being equal. The quote from St Maximus the Confessor doesn't really say what you seem to want it to say. He criticizes the man "who seeks in it ONLY sensual pleasure...." Moreover, I would not categorize the unitive aspect of lovemaking ever as "ONLY sensual pleasure." This is perhaps why, e.g., the Roman Catholic Church does not classify NFP as contraception. Besides, the Song of Songs is pleasure through and through, with no mention of children or childbearing! As for St Nikodemos, his theology ways in many ways quite Catholic - I shouldn't be surprised that he took a Roman view of Onan. Verse 18 of the Leviticus passage deals with emissions stemming from intercourse; vv 16-17 dealt with nocturnal emissions. The Eastern Fathers (with the exception of Epiphanios), along with the Rabbis, did not see Onan's sin as one of contraception. It was his disobedience of God and the law on Levirate marriage. There was no law about coitus interruptus, much less a death penalty for it. One final comment on Onan, this time from Jacob Milgrom's Leviticus commentary: "May a married couple practice coitus interruptus? The example of Onan (Gen 38.8-10) is irrelevant. His act is condemned because he refused to act as the levir and thus denied an heir to his deceased brother.... the silence of our text would permit the inference that birth control was not prohibited as long as the couple had reproduced. This, indeed, is the opinion of the rabbis: two males according to R. Shammai.... and one male and one female according to R. Hillel...."

I think you might be surprised to find how similar the traditional Eastern view might be to the traditional Western view regarding marital sex. Western, or Western-affiliated fathers like St Epiphanius, haven’t been the only ones to emphasise that the procreative aspect of marital sex is essential. Gregory of Nyssa clearly expresses it as his ideal, as does Maximus the Confessor (although the latter doesn’t discuss the relationship of the unitive aspect of sex to the procreative in the same terms as in dissenting position 1, as you’ve pointed out). Regarding 1, while this quote of St Maximus’ is not saying exactly the same thing as dissenting position #1, it does clearly state that he believes the purpose of procreation to be essential to the sexual act. As for Nicodemus taking the “Roman” view of Onan, there is, as far as I know, no “Eastern” view on Onan apart from St Epiphanius of Salamis. Can you point specifically to discussions of Onan’s sin by any Eastern Fathers other than St Epiphanius? As for rabbinic commentary, while it is interesting, I don’t take it as authoritative regarding Orthodox moral teaching or interpretation of scripture. Do you? Yevamot, which I think Milgrom uses to find Rs. Shammai and Hillel’s opinions, is particularly strange, insisting among other things in 34b, that Tamar broke her hymen with her finger, that sexual intercourse cannot result in conception the first time, and that both Er and Onan engaged in anal sex with Tamar. Yevamot also seems to imply that heterosexual anal intercourse is permitted on occasion.
Interestingly, when we look at the text of Genesis 38, there was no command from God in Genesis 38 regarding Onan’s taking Tamar as his wife and “raising up seed unto his brother” – it was, in fact, a command from his father, Judah (no model of Christian morality). Moreover, there were no laws regarding ritual impurity as this was Pre-Sinai and the giving of the Mosaic law. All we have is that Onan disobeyed his father, and that something about Onan’s action was so displeasing to God such as to merit death.
Regarding Song of Songs, just because it emphasises the loveliness of physical union and does not mention childbearing does not mean Scripture justifies actively divorcing the procreative aspect of sex from the unitive aspect. Moreover, it’s traditionally considered to be a dialogue between Solomon and one of his lovers (whether it’s one of his 1000 concubines or wives, we do not know). This is hardly a book from which Orthodox Christians should take their cues regarding sexual morality, is it?
The Roman Catholic Church does classify NFP as contraception (see Humanae Vitae), however classifies it as the only acceptable form of contraception (for casuistic reasons which defy my understanding – again, see Humanae Vitae) aside from total abstinence.
To summarise the argument to date, I’ve offered Fathers’ views either condemning contraception and/or emphasising the essentiality of the procreative aspect of sex within sexual acts. You’ve tried to dismiss each of these, either by claiming that they’re not Fathers (Clement), that they’re too “Western” (Jerome, Augustine, Caeserius) or Western-affiliated (Epiphanius, Nicodemus), or that they don’t actually mean what they say (Nyssa, Maximus, Chrysostom). At the same time you haven’t produced a single Orthodox voice pre-20th century which endorses a single form of contraception. If I haven’t persuaded you on this basis (even regarding the ridiculousness of Evdokimov’s comment on the issue of birth control not being raised in the age of the Fathers), then I’m not sure I have much hope at this stage. Consequently, I’ll have to change tack. I’m assuming that we both agree that heterosexual anal intercourse within marriage is not good for a couple (please correct me if that is not the case). What exactly is it that is wrong about this kind of sex in your view? I ask this to find out the rationale behind your picture of sexual morality.--Gmharvey (talk) 10:32, July 10, 2018 (UTC)

Rabbinical commentary from the time of Jesus and before is certainly relevant to understand the context of the NT. The two leading schools, those of Shammai and Hillel, are clear that the duty "to be fruitful and multiply” was considered met by a couple’s having had two children. The Hebrew religion that was the setting for the teaching of our Lord and his Apostles did not believe that sex within marriage not aimed at procreation was wrong. Nothing in the NT suggests any change in thinking in the direction that sex within marriage was only for procreation. Read St Paul in 1 Cor 7 — he clearly believes (as Chrysostom will also believe centuries later) that marriage is primarily about avoiding fornication.

What scholarship I recall says that the levirate law of marriage preceded the Mosaic covenant; the later merely codified it. The more obvious sin attributed to Onan is greed. If he were to provide his late brother with a son, then his father’s estate would go to Er’s son and not to Onan himself. It seems to be about inheritance, just as with the struggle between Jacob and Esau. Instead of that, you want to read into the Genesis account of Onan a view that not only isn’t found elsewhere in Scripture, but which also contradicts what we do find in Scripture (such as the rules in Lev 16 previously discussed, the celebration of sexual love with no mention of children that we find in the Song of Songs, and St Paul’s account in 1 Cor 7).

I have found your use of patristic sources quite unconvincing. Firstly, you read into them more than is found in the text and misrepresent what they actually say in some cases. You hold up Hayward’s citation of Nyssa, which you mischaracterize as emphasizing that “the procreative aspect of marital sex is essential” and saying that Nyssa “clearly expresses it as his ideal.” Even Hayward acknowledges that Nyssa is extolling virginity and contrasting it with “marriage, which he bitterly attacks…” Nyssa indicates that Isaac’s marriage to Rebecca was “not the deed of passion,” but that is because he “was past the flower of his age” (although I don’t think of 60 as being past the flower of my age!). But that meant Isaac and Rebekah had been having sex for 20 years before she conceived. I would add that Nyssa’s claim that Isaac "cohabited with her till the birth of her only children, and then, closing the channels of the senses, lived wholly for the Unseen…” does not reflect the biblical account, which says nothing to suggest Isaac abandoned the marriage bed to concentrate solely on God. IF Maximos is saying that procreation is the “only" purpose for sex, then I would venture to say that the Church has not accepted his opinion on the matter. But I’m not convinced that is what he is saying, as he is criticizing in that passage the person who seeks intercourse “only” for the purpose of sexual pleasure, and since to say that the purpose of intercourse is to have children is NOT to exclude other purposes (i.e., the unitive), I think it is more likely that you are trying to make more of what he said than his words warrant. Chrysostom is clear that procreation is not the primary purpose of marriage, and that it isn’t necessary, as we have already filled the earth. Secondly, you seem to treat the Fathers (and Scripture, judging by the emphasis you place on the Onan account) as proof texts. You find some isolated quotations from some Fathers and then imagine that you have established the mind of the Church Fathers. You take quotations where individual Fathers are talking about abortion and sterilization and people having sex outside of marriage or with prostitutes and then imagine that you have established the patristic view on whether a married couple, not acting for any unworthy motive, may avoid conception in order to limit the number of children they have or the timing of those children. I believe that this is why you fail to accept Evdokimov’s point about birth control not having been raised by the Church Fathers. Thirdly, you act as if the Fathers all have equal weight and on all issues, when that is not the traditional Orthodox view. As Metropolitan Kallistos Ware writes, “with the Fathers the judgement of the Church is selective: individual writers have at times fallen into error and at times contradict one another. Patristic wheat needs to be distinguished from Patristic chaff.” It is not surprising that an Orthodox press prints homilies of Chrysostom on marriage and family life, but not Augustine or Jerome on marriage and family life! I am not surprised that there are a number of writers in the Church's history, mostly monastic, that express a rather dismal view of marriage as something inferior to celibacy and who can tolerate sex within marriage only for the sake of procreation.

And you argue this despite the fact that the Church has never condemned limiting the number of births except for abortion. No conciliar decree, no canon. Even the one local Church that has rejected artificial contraception, the Church of Greece, has not forbidden NFP. But somehow even they do not meet your personal, individual standard of what is Orthodox.

Evdokimov cites this definition of marriage from the Orthodox Dogmatic Theology of Metropolitan Macarius of Moscow: "Marriage is a sacred rite. The spouses promise reciprocal fidelity before the Church; the grace of God is bestowed through the blessing of the minister of the Church. It sanctifies their union and confers the dignity of representing the spiritual union of Christ and the Church." And then from Evdokimov himself: "The account of the institution of marriage, found in the second chapter of Genesis, speaks of 'one flesh' without mentioning procreation at all. The creation of the woman is an answer to the statement, 'It is not good for man to be alone.' The nuptial community constitutes the person, for it is the 'man-woman' that is in the image of God. All the New Testament passages dealing with marriage follow the same order and do not mention offspring (Mt 19; Mk 10; Eph 5)" (The Sacrament of Love, p. 120).

Metropolitan Macarius, BTW, was the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church in the middle of the 19th c., so he presumably isn't subject to your ad hominem about being "insidiously affected by the sexual revolution of the 20th century." But then, I don't see how you could reasonably make that assertion against the current Church of Russia, either.

Metropolitan Macarius does not, in that quote regarding his definition of marriage, endorse contraception. The challenge that there is no voice prior to the 20th century which endorses a single form of contraception still stands unanswered. The view that marriage (or sex) has its primary purpose in the union of a couple does not mean that the active separation of the procreative aspect of sex is good or acceptable.
I think we are going around in circles talking about Jewish commentary, what the Fathers’ really mean, the about which ones are valid, about whose use of Fathers’ count as proof-texts and whose are valid citations, and how to go about reaching a patristic synthesis. I get the feeling now that we will not get any further in this particular debate.
What may be fruitful is a discussion of what constitutes sex that is conducive to the flourishing of an Orthodox Christian. This may allow us to clarify what it is about our pictures of ideal sex that allow or do not allow for the use of contraception. Let us take an example case: anal intercourse between a heterosexual married couple. Acceptable or unacceptable? Why or why not? --Gmharvey (talk) 11:43, July 12, 2018 (UTC)


Is NFP rightly considered to be a form of "contraception"?

You are mistaken. Nowhere in Humane Vitae does the Pope refer to NFP as contraception. The only occurrences of a form of the word "contraception" refer to prohibited techniques. And, "Neither the Church nor her doctrine is inconsistent when she considers it lawful for married people to take advantage of the infertile period but condemns as always unlawful the use of means which directly prevent conception, even when the reasons given for the later practice may appear to be upright and serious. In reality, these two cases are completely different. In the former the married couple rightly use a faculty provided them by nature. In the later they obstruct the natural development of the generative process" (sec. 16). Moreover, it is clear that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops believe that NFP is not a form of contraception. See http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/natural-family-planning/what-is-nfp/why-nfp-is-not-contraception.cfm/ The same is true of Pope John Paul II who, in his Apostolic Exhortation on marriage, Familiaris Consortio, wrote: "In the light of the experience of many couples and of the data provided by the different human sciences, theological reflection is able to perceive and is called to study further the difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle: it is a difference whichis much wider and deeper than is usually thought, one which involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality." Moreover, this is also the explicit teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which approvingly quotes the distinction between NFP and Pope John Paul II in its Sec. 2370. Also, it adds in Sec. 2399 "The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception)."

Sure, I take your point. But it all seems like meaningless distinctions. NFP and what you would classify as “contraception” share the purpose of trying to have sex that won’t result in children – i.e. the preferment of sterile sex to sex which can produce children. --Gmharvey (talk) 11:43, July 12, 2018 (UTC)


Chrysostom Redux

Much was made above about an interpretation of a quote from St John Chrysostom by George Gabriel. So I have found an unambiguous quotation from a homily of St John that is clear about the purpose of marriage, where he makes clear that marriage no longer has the essential purpose of procreation.

"At the beginning, the procreation of children was desirable, so that each person might leave a memorial of his life. Since there was not yet any hope of resurrection, but death held sway, and those who died thought they would perish after this life, God gave the comfort of children, so as to leave living images of the departed and to preserve our species. For those who were about to die and for their relatives, the greatest consolation was their offspring. This was the chief reason for desiring children. Now that the resurrection is at our gates, we do not speak of death but advance toward another life better than the present, the desire for posterity is superfluous… So there remains only one reason for marriage, to avoid fornication, and the remedy is offered for this purpose.” (St John Chrysostom, On Marriage and Family Life, pp. 85-86.

As mentioned above, saying that marriage’s essential purpose is not procreation but the avoidance of fornication does not mean that actively separating procreation from marital sex is a good thing. Non sequitur. George S Gabriel’s interpretation tried to connect the two by his talk of not having to make provisions for the act resulting in children (which is a pretty way of saying something a little different: i.e. that it is ok to make provisions such that your sex does not result in children). --Gmharvey (talk) 11:43, July 12, 2018 (UTC)