by D. Q. McInerny, Ph.D. Professor of Philosophy, Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary, PO Box 147, Denton, NE., 68339. This article was published in the Newsletter published by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, Griffin Rd., P.O. Box 196, Elmhurst, PA. 18416; www.fssp.com; E-mail info@fssp.com

It would seem that a good many Catholics today, perhaps the majority, simply do not see contraception as a problem - and therein lay a yet greater problem. For if contraception is a serious wrong, and it is, then there is something even more serious in not recognizing it as such. Not to see a mistake as a mistake is to be doubly mistaken.

There are doubtless any number of explanations why so many Catholics today reject the Church’s clear and

unvarying teaching on contraception. Prominent among them would be the fact that this particular instance of dissent is part of a larger pattern of dissent; it is but a single manifestation of that widespread crisis of faith which is affecting the entire Church. The Catholic faith is a unified whole. To loosen one’s grip on a particular tenet of that faith is almost inevitably to loosen one’s grip on other tenets as well. It very often happens that the person who cannot assent in faith to this teaching has already withdrawn his assent from other, and often much more fundamental, teachings. Or, the dissent from this teaching is the prelude to the dissent from several others. Nay-saying is a spiritual disease which is highly contagious.

But there is another basic explanation for what appears to be the prevalent attitude of Catholics toward contraception, which I will identify as a diminution, or complete loss, of the sense of the natural. Contraception is unnatural. Such a claim would be completely incomprehensible to someone who lacks a correct understanding of nature and the natural, and there is much deep misunderstanding on that subject abroad in the land today.

Certainly there is a great deal of talk about nature and the natural, and that talk is very revealing. For example, many people, when they identify something as “natural,” mean to convey by the term “what I from my subjective point of view take to be right,” or “what I feel comfortable with and can live with.” It would be hard to imagine a more completely wrong-headed idea of the natural.

A proper understanding of “natural” is of course dependent upon a proper understanding of nature. What is nature? In the most general terms, nature is simply the sum total of creation as actually constituted. It is the objective order of things as established through the creative action of God. God, who is Wisdom itself, imprinted His very wisdom upon the world which He created. We can say, then, that the world, nature, is eminently rational. We are ourselves, of course, part of nature, but we participate in nature as free creatures. This means that we can choose to act in ways that are contrary to the established order of nature, and when we do so we act irrationally, or unnaturally.

A signal mark of the rationality of nature is the fact that it is everywhere defined by purpose. Everything in creation is directed toward a purpose, so what we have in nature is a vast array of various purposes, or ends, and all these various ends are directed toward a single, overriding end, which is God Himself. To thwart the proper purpose, or end, of any particular act is in effect to sabotage that act, for it removes it from its natural orientation to the Final End, or God.

The sexual communion between man and woman is a natural act because it is a purposeful act, and the purpose of the act, what the act is essentially for, is the procreation of children. If that purpose is consciously and deliberately undermined, then the very meaning of the act is radically altered. It takes on, at its very core, the character of the irrational. Because it is not directed toward what naturally it is for, the entire act becomes something other than what it was meant to be. The disorientation here is ontological, that is to say, it touches upon the very being of the act, and no amount of wishful thinking or would be well-intentioned good feeling can alter this unfortunate state of affairs.

Contraceptive sexual activity is unnatural, then, because it has been divorced from its proper purpose. Systematically to engage in such activity, activity which is other than what it was meant to be, is to make oneself other than what one was meant to be. Those who participate in a falsified act end by falsifying themselves.

We are, willy-nilly, rational creatures, which means that we always act purposefully, even though at times the purposes for which we act might be sorely misguided. Even when we are behaving in ways that are objectively irrational, we never fail to rationalize our actions. So, in the matter of contraception when we deny the proper purpose of the marital act, we substitute for it a counterfeit purpose. But counterfeit purposes, like counterfeit money, do not ring true, and leave impoverished those who bank on them

Those Catholics who are currently confused about the issue will once again come to see clearly the wrongness of contraception when they are reawakened to a clear understanding of nature and the natural. Disorder is recognized only by those who are capable of appreciating order. Order is the heart of nature, and the heart of order is purpose.

2001 Catholics Against Contraception