Talk:Birth Control and Contraception

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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.

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. /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 "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)

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.