Talk:Birth Control and Contraception

From OrthodoxWiki
Revision as of 21:11, June 21, 2018 by Fr Lev (talk | contribs) (added section)
Jump to: navigation, search


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." (


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:


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" ( 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.

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)