I still would like to renew my objection from yesterday that this discussion is even taking place, and that people who have absolutely no qualifications to do so are casting aspersions on Church teaching that they even concede currently exists. Dr. Boyd does not deny the existence of the statements from Humanae Vitae and the other sources, she simply restricts the interpretation in a manner the Church does not. She admits this, in hoping that the Church will "clarify" its teachings, and by "clarify" I mean "adopt positions Dr. Boyd advocates." This does not change the present reality, which is that Dr. Boyd, a secular psychologist by trade, is writing a book stating that those following Church teaching are engaging in a spirituality which is opposed to Catholicism, and a view of marriage which cannot be reconciled with traditional Catholic sources. I proved yesterday she is incorrect. Yet even besides that, who is she to call into question the Churches authority to bind and loose in this area, especially considering that the teaching has been consistent whenever it has been raised? Does this give anyone pause?
I really think we also need to acknowledge that this is an incredibly sensitive subject. Even for those who advocate NFP when serious conditions exist, it can be very tough if not impossible to develop a definitive canon of "serious conditions." The issues need to be handled with on a case by case basis. Dr. Boyd pays lip service to these "serious conditions", but absent from this discussion is the role of confessors/spiritual directors in helping spouses to determine if such conditions actually exist. The impulse to denigrate those who disagree with them as somehow not trusting in God, bad catholics, etc is not a sign of holiness, nor of a proper catholic mindset. We are all impacted by concupiscence, and this needs to be taken into consideration when the issue is discussed between spouses and confessors.
Yet in the rush to defend NFP from Dr. Boyd's erroneous conclusions, I fear many are essentially ignoring that the limitations surrounding NFP are real, Vatican II didn't change them, and we need to be very careful and prayerful in deciding whether or not these conditions apply in our marriages. This kind of thing would be helpful.
Thankfully, this work is already done by moral theologians, and it makes the challenge I issued all the more important. I asked for any moral theologian before Vatican II who taught that NFP was sinful, since the time before the council (in the eyes of Dr. Boyd) is when things were done properly in this manner. She did not provide a source, nor did any of her defenders in the comment boxes. They provided popular evangelical works of Catholic piety, but not works of moral theology. The reason it is so important in matters of moral theology is moral theology is not concerned with the ideal. It is concerned with the simple: something is or isn't a sin. When the consensus amongst them is as lopsided as it is on favoring NFP, there is a reason for that.
Now some will cite Aquinas and Augustine, claiming that since they reject the idea of using the marital embrace merely for pleasure, or condemning those who obstruct the natural power of the embrace in procreation, they are condemning NFP. There are two ways to respond to this. The proper response is that if these individuals taught so: so what? I hate to be flippant, but Aquinas and Augustine are not the Magesterium, and if you actually add their works into the consensus of moral theologians, canonists, catechisms, councils and Popes, the consensus would not be altered one iota. Individual Catholics, no matter how learned, have erred. This is why we trust in the Magesterium, which is protected by the Holy Spirit, and not in individual fathers and doctors, no matter how learned they be.
Yet must we believe that they have condemned NFP? Pius XI taught the following about the marital embrace in Casti Conubii, and all Catholics must accept it as true:
Since, therefore, openly departing from the uninterrupted Christian tradition some recently have judged it possible solemnly to declare another doctrine regarding this question, the Catholic Church, to whom God has entrusted the defense of the integrity and purity of morals, standing erect in the midst of the moral ruin which surrounds her, in order that she may preserve the chastity of the nuptial union from being defiled by this foul stain, raises her voice in token of her divine ambassadorship and through Our mouth proclaims anew: any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.As Fr. Brian Harrison notes, the Latin for "deliberately frustrated in" is far better translated as "deliberately deprived." In this instance, it is clear that Pius XI is rejecting contraception. He cannot be rejecting NFP (periodic continence during fertility, and engaging in the marital embrace outside of fertility), since three paragraphs later, he states:
Nor are those considered as acting against nature who in the married state use their right in the proper manner although on account of natural reasons either of time or of certain defects, new life cannot be brought forth. For in matrimony as well as in the use of the matrimonial rights there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider so long as they are subordinated to the primary end and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved.It must also be noted that Pius XI teaches in the following paragraphs why these circumstances are not normative, and how one should presume they are not binding on you until proven otherwise. With this balance struck, I think we can synthesize what Aquinas says as not contradicting either statement. Those who are engaging in the marital embrace and deprive the power of procreation through artificial means are sinning. So are those who engage in NFP for trivial reasons such as wanting to be able to continue traveling, afford more house than you need, the desire to emphasize the unitive aspects of marriage to the rejection of the procreative, or just the plain ordinary difficulty that married life carries with it. All of these are wrong
In the citations Dr. Boyd gives, Aquinas is speaking of "marriage goods." According to Pius XI, in addition to procreation, there exists marital goods such as "mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence." These are not superior to procreation, but they can be considered by spouses as long as they are not depriving the marital act of the power of procreation. Since they are engaging in the act when procreation is, if not impossible, highly unlikely, that is not robbing the act of the marriage good.
In addition to this, Aquinas uses the phrase "merely for pleasure" when discussing whether or not it is sinful. This changes everything! One who is using the marital embrace solely for their own gratification is completely distorting the sign of the marital embrace. The embrace is meant to be a sign of self-denial, a "gift of self" where you are focused on the good of the other, not your own. When seen in this context, the Holy Office in 1679 was absolutely right when they condemned the idea that "The act of marriage exercised for pleasure only is entirely free of all fault and venial defect."
Rest assured, those who are following NFP properly are not doing this! One commenter states that this view is naive, and ignorant of the reality of concupiscence. That concupiscence exists does not mean we become a Jansenist, and state that it is impossible to exercise properly the gifts God gives us. These situations suggest the need for greater pastoral sensitivity, but they are technically irrelevant as to whether or not NFP is opposed to the traditional understanding of marriage.
I believe Dr. Boyd and several of those who agree with her are sincere in their attempts to oppose the contraceptive mindset which is rampant in society. They are even correct in calling those out who use NFP as a form of "Catholic Contraception." I sympathize with these concerns, and I wager that all good Catholics should as well. Yet when she states that "NFP is all about a degree of control that is objectionable in any traditional Catholic understanding of marriage or Catholic spirituality in general", she is calling into question settled Church teaching. The Catholic Church, in the person of 4 different popes, an ecumenical council, and a consistent consensus on this ever since the 1850's (when it became possible to engage in NFP due to a better medical understanding of fertility) has ruled that when used properly, Natural Family Planning is lawful.
This should be the end of the discussion amongst faithful Catholics. Roma locuta est, causa finita est.