Contraception and the Natural Law    

In 1962, Grisez mistakenly thought that the rightness or wrongness of people's choices depends on how they expect their chosen actions to benefit and/or harm others as well as themselves. With that view, which was very similar to the so-called proportionalism soon afterwards adopted by dissenting Catholic theologians, Grisez thought that contraception (and actions of other kinds condemned throughout the Christian tradition as always wrong) must sometimes be morally acceptable. Yet that long tradition made him hesitate, and he continued thinking about the problem, until, one afternoon in the spring of 1963, he caught on to why choices to do certain sorts of things, including choices to do anything whatever to prevent conception, are always wrong. A day or two later, he first heard that some theologians were going to call for change in the Church's teaching on contraceptiom.

By Easter Sunday (29 March) 1964, those theologians and many other Catholics were publicly calling for that change and privately rejecting the entire ethics of sex and innocent life that all Christians had held until some began to abandon it during the nineteenth century. At a meeting of the American Catholic Philosophical Association right after Easter, Grisez found many of his colleagues joining that movement and almost nobody about to defend traditional Christian morality. Having planned to write an article about his new insights into ethical theory, he did not wish to deal with contraception. But Grisez was on sabbatical that year, and coming home from the meeting, he began to think that perhaps he should write an article about it. For a week, he thought and prayed about whether to do so and, if he did, what to say. By about April 10 he had an outline and discerned that he had to write the article. But as the pages of manuscript piled up during the next two weeks, they became the first draft of a book. By the end of June, the book was ready for publication, and it appeared early in 1965.

Later works by Grisez and his colleagues greatly developed the ethical theory deployed in Contraception and the Natural Law, and a mature theological treatment of contraception may be found in The Way of the Lord Jesus, volume 2, chapter 8, question E. However, Grisez thinks his first treatment of the subject is sound and remains helpful.

He publishes the work here, copyright © 2009, and reserves the right to make and distribute copies for sale. But he hereby grants everyone the right to print out and distribute without charge copies of the entire work or part of it provided the source is identified and this copyright information included.

Because the pdf file of the book is large, bringing it up will take time. Please be patient!

Open the Book (PDF)


Contraception . . . Is It Always Wrong?    

Shortly after Contraception and the Natural Law appeared, the edtior of Our Sunday Visitor, a Catholic paper then received by more than one million families, invited Grisez to provide a brief and readable summary of the book’s philosophical argument. Realizing that he could not write such a piece, Grisez almost refused, but a friend suggested that he talk with Russell Shaw, a professional writer then employed by NCWC (National Catholic Welfare Conference) News Service. Moonlighting, Shaw did the popularization in the form of an interview, the parts of which were published in four issues in the summer of 1965, and subsequently condensed into this pamphlet.

The pamphlet is copyright © Our Sunday Visitor 1966, all rights reserved.

Open the Pamphlet (PDF)


“A New Formulation of a    
Natural-Law Argument against Contraception”

Grisez was asked to present very briefly his argument against contraception at a symposium held at the Albertus Magnus Lyceum, River Forest, Illinois, on 30 October 1965. The other main participant in the symposium was John T. Noonan, who had also published a book on contraception. Grisez’s presentation was subsequently published as an article in The Thomist, and is copyright © Dominican Fathers Province of St. Joseph 1966, all rights reserved.

Open the Article (PDF)


“Reflections on the Contraception Controversy”    

In a panel discussion at the annual meeting of the American Catholic Philosophical Association in Denver on 20 April 1965, Grisez contributed some methodological reflections on the contraception controversy. A slightly revised version of his paper was published almost at once in a journal for Catholic clerics. The article is copyright © The American Ecclesiastical Review 1965, all rights reserved.

Open the Article (PDF)


“Contraception and Reality”    

Written for a Catholic monthly journal of ideas, this article was an attempt by Grisez to relate the ongoing controversy over contraception within the Catholic Church to the far wider issue of the conception of reality to be presupposed in facing the problems that had given rise to the controversy. The article is copyright © Triumph Magazine, Inc. 1966, all rights reserved.

Open the Article (PDF)


“Contraception, NFP, and the Ordinary Magisterium:    
An Outline for a Seminar”

In 1978, Grisez was named the Flynn Professor of Christian Ethics at Mount Saint Mary’s College, with teaching to begin in the fall of 1979. However, the dean of Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary asked him to lead a session in a workshop on natural family planning in February 1979. This outline was the basis for an hour’s discussion with participating seminarians.

The claim here that the teaching on contraception had been proposed infallibly by the ordinary magisterium very briefly summarized the argument in the theological article, “Contraception and the Infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium” which Grisez had published with Rev. John C. Ford, S.J. The brief explanation here of the ethical difference between contraception and natural family planning anticipated part of the more adequate argument of the theological article just below. The outline is copyright © 1980 by the Human Life Center, St. John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota; all rights reserved.

Open the Outline (PDF)


“‘Every Marital Act Ought to Be Open to New Life’:    
Toward a Clearer Understanding”

Early in 1987, Joseph Boyle, John Finnis, William E. May, and Grisez began to plan an article on contraception for publication during the following year, the twentieth anniversary of the publication of Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae vitae. In it, they reargue their thesis that every choice to contracept is wrong because contralife, and answer many objections to it. They argue that contraception does not serve marital love and that choices to avoid conception by sexual abstinence need not be contraceptive. They explain the meaning of the Catholic Church's teaching that there is an inseparable connection, willed by God, between the love-making and life-giving aspects of marital intercourse. They also criticize four pastoral strategies commonly used by Catholics who reject contraception in theory but compromise with its practice.

Subsequent discussion has convinced Grisez—and he thinks has convinced his colleagues as well—of two things: (1) while NFP can be chosen with a wrongful intent, it cannot be chosen as a means of contracepting; and (2) that the use of contraception within marriage can be shown to be wrong independently of its contralife character (see Living a Christian Life, chapter 9, question A, 1). Still, Grisez remains convinced that the central arguments of the article are sound. The article is copyright © Dominican Fathers, Province of St. Joseph 1988, all rights reserved.

Open the Article (PDF)


“‘Ogni Atto Coniugale Deve Essere Aperto a una Nuova Vita’:    
Verso una Comprehensione Piú Precisa”

The Italian translation is copyright © Istituto Giovanni Paolo II 1988, all rights reserved.

Open the Article (PDF)