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Modern Heresies on Contraception
A refutation of Jimmy Akin's heretical errors on contraception and marriage

Jimmy Akin is completely wrong on this point, quoted from his blog:
I've boldfaced the phrase "conjugal act" because it's the key to understand what is being said. Many gloss over this phrase and assume it means "sexual act." It doesn't. "Conjugal" -- like its Latin equivalent, coniugale -- doesn't mean "sexual"; it means "marital."
What the Church -- in Humanae Vitae and the Catechism -- has done is say that one cannot deliberately frustrate the procreative aspect of sexual intercourse between man and wife.

It thus would rule out the use of a condom to prevent a husband and wife from conceiving a child, but that doesn't address condom use in other situations. Thus far the Church has not explored the question of condom use -- or other, typically contraceptive acts -- in cases outside of marriage.
In the above quoted blog post, and in other similar posts, Akin claims that the Magisterium has only condemned the use of contraception within marriage. He bases this claim largely on his translation of the Latin word 'conjugale,' found in the document Humanae Vitae.

1. The word conjugale in Latin refers to a joining. The root word, jugale, is sometimes used to refer to the joining or yoking of oxen or other animals (e.g. Jer 51:23; Lk 14:19). The prefix, con, gives the whole word the meaning 'joining together'. Although conjugale is often used to refer specifically to marriage, the word itself does not refer exclusively to marriage.

The official translation of Humanae Vitae, which has stood for many years, uses 'sexual intercourse' to translate conjugale:
"Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation-whether as an end or as a means. Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive...." (Humanae Vitae, n. 14).
Furthermore, as a translator of Latin, I can assure the reader that the Latin term 'conjugale' is not exclusively limited to sex within marriage. (I spent just over five years, working nearly every day, translating the Bible from Latin into English. See my translation at SacredBible.org)

2. It is a serious doctrinal error to claim that the Church has only condemned the use of contraception within marriage.

The basis for the condemnation of contraception is that the sexual act is inherently directed toward procreation. But natural marital relations is not the only sexual act inherently capable of procreation. Obviously, natural intercourse in general, whether or not the man and woman are married, is naturally procreative. But under natural law, deliberately frustrating that procreative meaning deprives the sexual act of its good moral object, making the act intrinsically evil. It is absurd to speak as if committing a serious sexual sin, such as sexual relations outside of marriage, somehow changes the sin of contraception from gravely immoral to moral. Contraception is intrinsically evil, and therefore it is irremediably evil.
Pope John Paul II: "If acts are intrinsically evil, a good intention or particular circumstances can diminish their evil, but they cannot remove it. They remain 'irremediably' evil acts; per se and in themselves they are not capable of being ordered to God and to the good of the person." (Veritatis Splendor, n. 81.)
The Church has condemned the use of contraception outside of marriage.
Pope John Paul II: "Thus the Church condemns as a grave offense against human dignity and justice all those activities of governments or other public authorities which attempt to limit in any way the freedom of couples in deciding about children. Consequently, any violence applied by such authorities in favor of contraception or, still worse, of sterilization and procured abortion, must be altogether condemned and forcefully rejected." (Familiaris Consortio, n. 30)
Governments and other public authorities do not limit their promotion of contraception to married couples only. Yet the Church condemns as a grave offense 'all those activities' to promote contraception. Therefore, the Church's teaching condemns any use of contraception, not only within marriage.
Pope John Paul II: "When couples, by means of recourse to contraception, separate these two meanings that God the Creator has inscribed in the being of man and woman and in the dynamism of their sexual communion, they act as "arbiters" of the divine plan and they "manipulate" and degrade human sexuality -- and with it themselves and their married partner -- by altering its value of "total" self-giving." (Familiaris Consortio, n. 32)
Although the Pope mentions marriage in the above quote, he finds the basis for the immorality of contraception "inscribed in the being of man and woman" and in God's plan for sexual communion and human sexuality. He does not find the basis for the immorality of contraception to be a violation of the marital meaning of sexuality, but rather a violation of the unitive and procreative meanings, "which man on his own initiative may not break" (Humanae Vitae, n. 12).

3. But to make this doctrinal error worse, Akin also claims that the use of contraception is not necessarily always immoral even within marriage.
Jimmy Akin: "That's actually a fairly narrow statement. It doesn't even address all situations that may arise in marriages, because there may be situations in which the law of double effect would allow the toleration of a contraceptive effect as long as this is a side effect of the action rather than being intended as a means or an end."
The principle of double effect never justifies an act that is intrinsically evil.
"The object of the act must not be intrinsically contradictory to one's fundamental commitment to God and neighbor (including oneself), that is, it must be a good action judged by its moral object (in other words, the action must not be intrinsically evil)"
Key Ethical Principles -- Principle of Double Effect
To the contrary, the principle of double effect only justifies an act if the intention is good, and the act is not intrinsically evil, and the bad effects do not morally outweigh the good effects of the act. There are three fonts of morality: (1) intention, (2) moral object, (3) circumstances. When the moral object is evil, the act is intrinsically evil. Neither a good intention, nor dire circumstances can cause an intrinsically evil act to become moral.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception)." (CCC, n. 2399).

Pope John Paul II: "Consequently, circumstances or intentions can never transform an act, intrinsically evil by virtue of its object, into an act 'subjectively' good or defensible as a choice." (Veritatis Splendor, n. 81.)
Contraception is intrinsically evil because the chosen act is inherently directed, in and of itself, independent of intention and circumstances, at depriving the sexual act of its procreative meaning. The immorality of contraception is based on its moral object, not on the intended end or the intended means.

Jimmy Akin has badly misunderstood Catholic moral teaching on the three fonts of morality, on intrinsic evil, and on the principle of double effect. And he is teaching his misunderstanding as if it were the teaching of Christ.

4. Do these doctrinal errors rise to the level of heresy? Yes.

Heresy is generally the rejection of any infallible teaching of the Magisterium on a matter of faith or morals.
"Canon 751 Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith…."
And according to Canon 750, those things which are to be believe by divine and Catholic faith (i.e. with the full assent of faith) are every infallible teaching of the Church, including the teachings of the ordinary and Universal Magisterium.

The condemnation of contraception has been clearly and definitively taught by successive Popes and by the body of Bishops dispersed through the world; they are "in agreement on one position as definitively to be held" on a matter of faith or morals. Therefore, under the definition of the Universal Magisterium given by the Second Vatican Council (Lumen Gentium, n. 25), this teaching condemning contraception as an intrinsically evil and gravely immoral act is infallible.

But at no time and in no way has any Pope, nor the body of Bishops, justified the use of contraception outside of marriage, restricted the teaching against contraception to within marriage, or spoken as if the use of contraception outside of marriage could ever be moral or could ever be considered an open question.

Jimmy Akin's claim that the teaching of the Magisterium against contraception applies only to sexual acts within marriage, as if the use of contraception outside of marriage were an open question, fundamentally contradicts the infallible teaching of the Universal Magisterium condemning the use of contraception as a grave sin, in and of itself, without exception. This claim is a heresy.

Jimmy Akin's further claim that even within marriage contraception is not necessarily always immoral is also an heretical error. For he implies either (1) that contraception is not intrinsically evil, or (2) that intrinsically evil acts are not always immoral, regardless of intention and circumstances. The first implication is contradicted by the teaching of the Universal Magisterium, which has always condemned contraception without exception.
The Church has always taught the intrinsic evil of contraception, that is, of every marital act intentionally rendered unfruitful. This teaching is to be held as definitive and irreformable. Contraception is gravely opposed to marital chastity; it is contrary to the good of the transmission of life (the procreative aspect of matrimony), and to the reciprocal self-giving of the spouses (the unitive aspect of matrimony); it harms true love and denies the sovereign role of God in the transmission of human life. (Vademecum for Confessors, n. 4)
The second implication is contradicted by the Catechism and by the encyclical Veritatis Splendor by Pope John Paul II.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception)." (CCC, n. 2399).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church: "It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it." (CCC, n. 1756).

Pope John Paul II: "The negative precepts of the natural law are universally valid. They oblige each and every individual, always and in every circumstance. It is a matter of prohibitions which forbid a given action semper et pro semper, without exception, because the choice of this kind of behaviour is in no case compatible with the goodness of the will of the acting person, with his vocation to life with God and to communion with his neighbour. It is prohibited - to everyone and in every case - to violate these precepts. They oblige everyone, regardless of the cost, never to offend in anyone, beginning with oneself, the personal dignity common to all." (Veritatis Splendor, n. 52.)

Pope John Paul II: "Consequently, circumstances or intentions can never transform an act, intrinsically evil by virtue of its object, into an act 'subjectively' good or defensible as a choice." (Veritatis Splendor, n. 81.)
Finally, by repeatedly and publicly teaching this heretical error, Jimmy Akin not only commits the objective mortal sin of heresy, but adds the objective mortal sin of teaching heresy to others.

by Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and Bible translator
23 November 2010

For more on the topic of contraception, see chapter 22, 'Abortion and Contraception,' in my book: The Catechism of Catholic Ethics

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