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Quotes from the Church Fathers

Among the types of sexual sins, there is contraception (also called “Birth Control” or “Family Planning”), which is, essentially, the act of intentionally preventing conception and pregnancy, when engaging in sexual intercourse.

Contraception is a violation of the very first commandment of God to man, which is “Be fruitful and be many” (Genesis 1:28), that is, that those who are conjoined in the marital union must produce children. There are various methods by which this sin is acted out, all of which are ancient, and were known to, and explicitly condemned by, the church fathers.

The main methods of contraception are:
   • The use of a “barrier” (i.e. condoms, etc.),
   • The use of an intrauterine device (IUD),
   • The use of sterilization substances (i.e. birth control pills, herbs, etc.),
   • The intentional sowing of a man’s seed outside of his wife (i.e. withdrawal method; the sin of Onan, Genesis 38),
   • Sexual interactions other than genital intercourse (i.e. oral, sodomy, etc.),
   • Genital-mutilation surgeries (i.e. vasectomy, tubal ligation),
   • Sexual intercourse during the woman’s pregnancy,
   • Sexual intercourse during the woman’s menstruation cycle,
   • Planned sexual intercourse on certain times of the month, during which the woman is less likely to be fertile; while avoiding sexual intercourse on other certain times of the month, during which the woman is more likely to be fertile.

Being a sin and an act against nature, committed by men all throughout history, our church fathers deemed it necessary to teach and write against contraception, and to reaffirm the Orthodox Christian teaching on marital intercourse as being for the sole purpose of procreation. Here’s what they said:

1. The Holy Apostles (1st Century AD)

“When the natural menstruations appear in the wives, do not let their husbands [have intercourse with] them, out of regard for the children that are to be begotten; for the law has forbidden it, for it says: “You shall not come near your wife when she is in her separation” (Leviticus 18:19). Neither let them [have intercourse with] their wives, when they are pregnant. For they do not do this for the begetting of children, but for the sake of pleasure. Now a lover of God ought not to be a lover of pleasure.”

Source: Apostolic Constitutions, 6:5:28.

2. Barnabas the Apostle (b. 1st Century AD)

“You shall not be as those whom we hear of as committing [sexual] wickedness with the mouth, on account of their uncleanness; neither shall you be joined to those impure women who commit iniquity with the mouth.

Source: Epistle of Barnabas, 10.

3. Ignatius of Antioch (b. 30 AD)

“Husbands, love your wives, as fellow-servants of God, as your own body, as the partners of your life, and your co-adjutors in the procreation of children. Virgins, have Christ alone before your eyes, and His Father in your prayers, being enlightened by the Spirit. May I have pleasure in your purity . . . Not, however, that I blame the other saints because they entered into the married state, of which I have just spoken. For I pray that, being found worthy of God, I may be found at their feet in the kingdom, as at the feet of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob; as of Joseph, and Isaiah, and the rest of the prophets; as of Peter, and Paul, and the rest of the apostles, that were married men. For they entered into these marriages not for the sake of appetite, but out of regard for the propagation of mankind.

Source: Epistle to the Philadelphians, 4.

“Men and women who marry must form their union by the approval of the bishop, so that their marriage may be according to God, and not after their own lust. Let all things be done to the honor of God.”

Source: Epistle to Polycarp, 5.

4. Clement of Rome (b. 35 AD)

“This kind of chastity is to be observed: that sexual intercourse must not take place heedlessly and for the sake of mere pleasure, but for the sake of begetting children. And since this observance is found even among some of the lower animals, it would be a shame if it was not observed by men, who are reasonable and worship God.”

Source: Recognitions, 6:12.

5. Justin the Martyr (b. 100 AD)

“We do not marry from the beginning, unless it be for the upbringing of children; or we refrain from marrying and restrain ourselves completely.”

Source: First Apology, 29.

6. Athenagoras of Athens (b. 133 AD)

“Having the hope of eternal life, we despise the things of this life, even to the pleasures of the soul, each of us reckoning his wife whom he has married according to the laws laid down by us, and only for the purpose of having children. For as the husbandman throwing the seed into the ground awaits the harvest, not sowing more upon it, so to us is the procreation of children.”

Source: A Plea for Christians, 33.

7. Clement of Alexandria (b. 150 AD)

“Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted . . . To have intercourse, other than to procreate children, is to do injury to nature . . . Marriage is the desire for the procreation of children, not a disordered excretion of semen, which is both against the law and foreign to reason.”

Source: The Paedagogus, 2:10:91:2; 2:10:95:3.

“The Law commands husbands to cohabit with their wives with self-control, and only for the purpose of begetting children.

Source: Stromata, 3:11:71.

8. Origen of Alexandria (b. 185 AD)

“Let the married women examine themselves and approach their husbands for this reason alone: that they might receive children, and abstain after conception . . . For even the animals know, when they have conceived, not to further grant opportunity to their males.”

Source: Homilies on Genesis, 5:4.

9. Lactantius (b. 240 AD)

“Some complain of their poverty, and claim that they do not have enough for bringing up more children, as if their means were in their power, or as if God did not, daily, make the rich poor, and the poor rich. Wherefore, if anyone, on any account of poverty, shall be unable to bring up children, it is better to abstain from marriage, than to mar the work of God with wicked hands . . . God did not give us eyes to see and desire pleasure, but to see acts to be performed for the needs of life; so, also, the generative part of the body— as the name itself teaches— has been given to us for no other purpose than for the generation of offspring.

Source: Divine Institutes 6:20; 6:23.

10. Epiphanius of Salamis (b. 310 AD)

“The body, as a whole, is pervaded by the things which God has rightly placed in it— that is, desires which God has placed there, not for irregular things, but for good use and the orderliness of essential need; I am speaking the desire for sleep, food, drink, clothing, and all the others which arise in us . . . Thus, I can prove, also, that even sexual desire is, in itself, nothing wrong: it has been given for appropriate procreation, as seeds have been given to the earth, for an abundant yield of the good produce God has created— that is, pasturage and fruit trees. Thus, sexual desire was given to the human race, to fulfill the commandment, ‘Increase and multiply and fill the earth’ (Genesis 1:28).”

Source: The Panarion, 45:3:2.

“They are physically corrupted because they satisfy their appetite, by the act of Onan the son of Judah. For Onan coupled with Tamar, and satisfied his appetite, but did not complete the act by planting his seed for the God-given procreation, and did himself harm instead.

Source: The Panarion, 63:1:4.

“They [gnostics] have intercourse with each other, though they renounce procreation. It is for enjoyment, not for procreation, that they eagerly pursue seduction . . . Moreover, in the Epistle to Timothy, he says of them, ‘In the last days, perilous times will come, for men will be lovers of pleasure’ (2 Timothy 3:1, 3:4); and again, ‘forbidding to marry, having their consciences seared with a hot iron’ (1 Timothy 4:2-3). For they forbid chaste wedlock and procreation, but are seared in their consciences, since they have intercourse and pollute themselves, and yet hinder procreation . . . In performing their filthy act, they avoid insemination, rendering impossible the procreation which God has given His creatures.

Source: The Panarion, 26:5:2; 26:16:3; 26:19:3.

11. Cyril of Jerusalem (b. 313 AD)

But let those be of good cheer who, being married, use marriage lawfully; who make a marriage according to God’s ordinance, and not of incontinence for the sake of an unbounded license . . . who have entered upon matrimony for the procreation of children, but not for indulgence.

Source: Catechetical Lectures, 4:25.

12. Ambrose of Milan (b. 339 AD)

“You will find some who are so filled with fear of God, that they are able to rule and moderate their hearts. People such as this, once they have conceived of children, refrain from further intercourse. Is this so surprising in human beings, seeing that even the very animals silently tell us, by their example, that they, once they have conceived of offspring, cease to copulate? Once they feel their wombs grow heavy with the seed that has been implanted in them, they give up physical intercourse. They no longer abandon themselves to passion, but devote themselves to the care of their little ones. But as for humans, they have regard neither for their children, nor for God. The former they defile, and the latter they provoke to anger.”

Source: Commentary on Luke 1:24-25.

13. Jerome of Stridon (b. 342 AD)

“Onan was slain because he grudged his brother seed. Does he [the heretic] imagine that we approve of any sexual intercourse, except that which is for the procreation of children?

Source: Against Jovinian, 1:19.

“All other sins are external, and what is external can be easily cast away. But [sexual] desire, alone, is internal— implanted in men, by God, to lead them to procreate children; and this, if it oversteps its boundaries, becomes a sin.”

Source: Letters, 54:9.

14. John Chrysostom (b. 347 AD)

“Just as we gain an ill name for laughter, when we use it out of season; so also do we for tears, by having recourse to them unseasonably. For the virtue of each thing, then, discovers itself when it is brought to its own fitting action; but when it is brought to an action that is foreign, it no longer does so. For example: wine is given for cheerfulness, not drunkenness; bread is for nourishment; sexual intercourse is for the procreation of children.

Source: Homily on Colossians, 12.

“The other affections which are within us, are useful in some cases. For example: anger is often useful, for ‘unjust wrath shall not be innocent’ (Sirach 1:22), wherefore it is possible for one to be justly in wrath. And again, ‘He that is angry with his brother, without cause, shall be in danger of hell’ (Matthew 5:22). Again, for example: [sexual] desire, and emulation; the one, when it has reference to the procreation of children; the other, when he directs his emulation toward excellent things.”

Source: Homily on Hebrews, 2.

“Those passions were implanted in our nature, for a necessary end: [sexual] desire, for the procreation of children; and anger, for the aiding of the injured.”

Source: Homily on Second Corinthians, 23.

“He cried out, as it were, saying, ‘Do not dare to do the deeds of Sodom, lest you suffer the lot of Sodom!’ For truly, the very nature of the punishment was a pattern of the nature of the sin. Just as they devised a barren intercourse, not having the procreation of children for its end, so did God bring on them such a punishment, as He made the womb of the land barren forever, and destitute of all fruits.”

Source: Homily on the Statues, 19:7.

15. Augustine of Hippo (b. 354 AD)

“Necessary sexual intercourse, for the begetting of children, is blameless, and is itself, alone, worthy of marriage. But that which goes beyond this necessity, no longer follows reason, but lust . . . Do not let them think of themselves to be better than the first holy fathers, who used marriage, so to say, after the fashion of marriage. Indeed, the use of it is such: that if in it, there has taken place, through carnal intercourse, anything which exceeds the necessity of begetting children, there is pollution.

Source: Of the Good of Marriage, 11; 31.

16. John Cassian (b. 360 AD)

“Of fornication, there are three kinds: (1) that which is accomplished by sexual intercourse; (2) that . . . for which we read that Onan, the son of Judah the patriarch, was smitten by the Lord; and which is termed by Scripture ‘uncleanness’ . . . (3) and that which is conceived of in the heart and mind.”

Source: Conferences, 5:11.

17. Cyril of Alexandria (b. 376 AD)

“Marriage is honorable, indeed, if it serves for the procreation of children; and the one who has used it, according to the law, is blameless.”

Source: Adoration in Spirit and Truth, 15.