Five Violations of Birth Control and Abortion

An excerpt from Fr. Josiah Trenham’s new book on St. John Chrysostom:

St. John [Chrysostom] enjoyed the privilege of a thoroughgoing Greek education, which included a far greater emphasis on medical knowledge than does general education today. He was well aware of the differences between contraceptive drugs and abortifacients.

To his mind both abortion and contraception were repugnant because they committed five violations in unison. These five criticisms, found in Homily 24 in his Homilies on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, form the core of St. Chrysostom’s opposition to both abortion and contraception.

  1. Both abortion and contraception create a barren sowing . . . Their use creates a context in which the sexual act is designed to be barren, and the conjugal act is denuded of its purpose. . . . It is common stock in the Patristic arsenal, and is one of the main emphases in the ecclesiastical opposition to contraception.
  2. Both abortion and contraception treat despitefully the gift of God (“What then? Do you despise the gift of God …?”). The reference here is no doubt to the Scriptural teaching that children are a gift from God, and the use of abortion and contraception is thus a despising of children.
  3. Both abortion and contraception are expressions of fighting against God’s laws . . . In this he follows many Fathers, as well as Clement of Alexandria, who, more than any other early Church writer, emphasized the natural law requirements of marital intercourse. The use of abortion and/or contraception fights against the natural use of sexual intercourse, turning it into something unnatural.
  4. Both abortion and contraception turn the curse of barrenness into a blessing, and treat the blessing of fruitfulness as a curse (“What is a curse, do you seek as though it were a blessing …?”).
  5. Both abortion and contraception misuse women . . . St. John directly refers to pharmacological contraceptives . . .

This is certainly a crucial moment in the life of the Church, and one in which an authentic application of Tradition to contemporary Christian moral norms ought to be fervently sought. In that quest the contribution of St. John Chrysostom will certainly be of great value.

(Trenham, Marriage and Virginity According to St. John Chrysostom, pp. 220-223)

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Saint John Chrysostom still speaks, today even louder than in the fourth century. . . . those who have humility will find in him an able instructor, and will find a place of confidence in these confusing times. He radiates amidst the Holy Fathers of the Church as the great defender and sanctifier of the Christian home and city. Adherence to his teaching has produced innumerable saints in the Church, spiritually born both in the monastery and in the Christian home, and is capable of producing the same today.

—from the Afterword by Fr. Josiah Trenham

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About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
This entry was posted in Abortion, Contraception, The Orthodox Christian Family. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Five Violations of Birth Control and Abortion

  1. How could he get more clear than that? If an Orthodox Christian still has any doubt that abortion and contraception are wrong (and therefore a sin; evil to be avoided), it isn’t due to lack of proof. It is willful disregard and disobedience. Lord have mercy!

  2. ohshecooks says:

    Then why do so many of our clergy teach that some kinds of contraceptives are okay? It’s frustrating.

  3. On THIS subject, they are not in agreement with the consensus of the Church over all time and places. Even if the majority of all Orthodox clergy today agree that it is acceptable to use birth control, the overwhelming majority of Orthodox clergy over the past 2000 years has believed otherwise. We are still to be in submission to these men as well. You’re right, it is VERY frustrating that so many of today’s clergy have chosen to ignore the Faith “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) on this matter.

  4. The Holy Canons override an opinion of a Father. And these explicitly attack such contraception as kills the embryo. St. Paul does not ONCE mention marriage as primarily for reproduction, rather, to avoid fornication and singleness is best to avoid distractions from God that spouses and children and so forth can present. Abortion is wrong not because of “family” issues or ideology, but because it is murder. Murder a person without family, or an embryo, or a person with family, it is all the same. Personhood is NOT dependent on social membership or effect or relationships, you cannot have relationships without someone existing to have a relationship to someone else.

    • Historically, the Orthodox Church condemned all forms of birth control, whether they killed an embryo or not. Even coitus interruptus was forbidden, and no one believes that an embryo is being killed in that instance. We are not talking about the opinion of a single Father; we are talking about the unanimous voice of the historic Orthodox Church. Demonstrate the writings of a single Orthodox saint who approved of non-abortifacent birth control. You cannot demonstrate that, because such writings do not exist.

      Prior to 1970, you are not going to find Orthodox support for any form of birth control. And prior to 1930, you will not find support for birth control from any other christian group, because even Protestants historically condemned the use of birth control. Until this past century, it wasn’t even a question. Everybody knew it was wrong.

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