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)


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)
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)

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)