Jousting, Dueling, and Artificial Contraception

What does artificial contraception–the modern practice of using technology to defeat the procreative tendency of sexual intercourse–have to do with jousting–the medieval practice of fighting for fun and glory–and with dueling–the medieval and early modern practice of trying to kill a man to prove one’s honor?

Recently I was reading historian Barbara Tuchman‘s A Distant Mirror, her account–as her subtitle tells us–of “the Calamitous Fourteenth Century,” and her comparison of it to the also calamitous twentieth century.  Among many, many other things, Tuchman observes that in the middle ages the Catholic Church condemned jousting repeatedly and insistently, but that for the most part nobody listened.  Jousting went on among the noble classes, even though they were all Catholic, and even though the Church had said not to do it in terms that nobody could mistake or overlook.


Msgr. Ronald Knox makes a similar point in his excellent book The Belief of Catholics.  He observes that the Church condemned dueling for a very long time, during which its pronouncements were mostly ignored.  Eventually, of course, both jousting and dueling died out as civilization progressed.

It occurred to me as I thought about these things that there is an interesting parallel to our own times.  The Church today is in the same position to the larger society–many ordinary Catholics included–with regard to its teaching on artificial contraception as it was in the past with regard to its teaching on jousting and dueling.  It is faithfully proclaiming its teaching, even though many people dismiss that teaching as hopelessly unworldly.

And there is this parallel, too: The Catholics today who ignore the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception, saying that it is hopelessly unsuited to the real world we inhabit, are in the same position as those Catholics of the past who ignored the Church’s strictures against jousting and dueling for exactly the same reason.  Then and now, they would rather conform to the present culture’s understanding of what is “good” than to the Church’s teaching about what is truly good.



  • Joann

    Contraception. Why is it- that educated and otherwise responsible people, and especially I notice here – some folks who recognize “Eric” as being in the ‘dark ages’ about the Crusades – are themselves in the dark ages about NFP. Today we have Sympto-Thermal Method, the Creighton Model – Napro-Technology- all sorts of advancements and not one will look beyond the status quo to the real evidence of what contraception has done to women’s health (look up what the hormonal based pill has done), the moral fabric of society and families specifically. Could it be that we have as was stated even more sin than we care to account for when it comes to loving our spouses as Christ loved the Church? Google Dr. Ellen Grant, MD one of the original researchers who also thought a contraceptive pill might have some good advantages. She wrote a book 50 years ago entitled: The Bitter Pill. This would be educating oneself. One can also read how Mother Teresa’s sisters taught the poor of India how to read their signs and how well it accomplished their goal without all of the side effects and cost of hormonal or obstructive devices. But of course, as has been noted, we more often look for the easy and popular answers/opinions instead of the more difficult and sacrificial path.

    • morganB

      Well stated, Joann. I watched EWTN last night with Fr. Pacwa and two medical guests trying to convince us that there is a connection between contraception and in vitro fertilization. I am still spinning on that. There was mention of NFP, which was in its early stages during my first marriage. Carolyn was told by her doctor that due to her weak kidneys, she could not withstand another pregnancy. As I write this I can hear the clothed males harping on the sin of not following the church. Do they really understand how immensely difficult many births are? They are so concerned about our souls have they ever attended the birth of a child?

      • Slats

        Morgan, methinks you didn’t read Joann’s comment very well at all if you think it was “well-said,” given the rest of your views.

        • morganB

          If you were born around my time, Slats you will recall that to prevent a lethal pregnancy there was no pill and no tubal ligation and no IUD. Because Carolyn was so weak I took the only measure not available to women… a male vasectomy.

          Yes, I did read JoAnn’s blog. I can’t disagree with the fact that almost all birth control attempts are made by women.

          We discussed NFP with her doctor, George Einterz, a Catholic but he said given her condition, it was too risky.

          I hate to plead ignorance, but I know nothing about Sympto-Thermal Method, the Creighton Model – Napro-Technology. If they are akin to NFP where a WOMAN must watch her time and temperature to verify when she is ovulating, nothing is really new. I have always believed that if the intent by the couple is to prevent pregnancy, no restrictions apply. It is their mindset.



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