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.



43 thoughts on “Jousting, Dueling, and Artificial Contraception

  1. Louise says:

    Perhaps the best place to begin is when preparation for marriage classes focus on this topic of contraception. Most likely those attending are already living together and on contraceptives. A good, prepared stand has to be taken somewhere. Otherwise the pro-contraceptive mentality will endure and not be faced.

  2. Marcie says:

    Eric Johnson- The Catholic Church’s Crusades were in self-defense; a response to the Muslim invasions of neighboring countries. Please read something other than revisionist history. As far as sexual abuse goes, there is more abuse occurring today within the current educational system that the media only gives tacit coverage to than there was 30 plus years ago in the CC. And contrary to current media, the Church has and is doing much to weed out the FEW clergy who are guilty and have programs/training in place to prevent future abuse.

    It is a DOCTRINE of the Church that contraception not interfere with the procreative or unitive aspects of the sacramental marital act; not a suggestion. If you’re Catholic and refuse to acknowledge this, then you need to do some serious research into WHY the Church teaches this (see “Humanae Vitae”), as well as some soul-searching.

  3. Bill says:

    Eric the Crusades were in response to Islam trying to take over Europe. Islam started these wars. Butchered is a anti-catholic biased way to describe the conflict. The sex abuse was about 3% of a hundred thousand priests mostly in the 1970″s and 80′s as a result of influences of the “sexual revolution” when gay men began entering the priesthood.

    1. Eric Johnson says:

      Regarding the Crusades, perhaps you should review the following: sh
      Regarding the sexual abuse of children, perhaps you should review the following:

    2. Jon Bellamony says:

      Bill, I don’t mean to become to terrible involved in this argument, but Eric is talking about the sexual abuse of children, which you associate with gays entering priesthood. One EXTREMELY SERIOUS flaw in your argument is that being gay is NOT the same as being a pedophile or rapist. It is offensive that you would make such an ignorant mistake.

  4. Bill Monteith OFS says:

    The major difference I see is, at this rate, we may contracept ourselves right out of existence. The birthrate in most of the western world is dangerously below replacement needs and now thanks to “Catholics” like the Bill Gates, we are importing our contraceptive culture to the rest of the world.

    1. Jon Bellamony says:

      I recant my earlier statement about not becoming involved in your argument. You said we might contracept ourselves right out of existence. [C'mon!] There are 7 Billion people in the world. I think with that number we can correct ourselves before we become extinct. No Bill, we are not going to “contracept” ourselves out of existence

  5. Eric Johnson says:

    Surly you jest. The Catholic Church butchered thousands of innocent people during the Crusades simply because they refused to follow Catholic doctrines and then hid the sexual abuse of children for at least hundreds of years. It’s time to get off your high horse and check in with reality.

    1. faithandfamilyfirst says:

      Wow, you are farther away from the facts than Pluto is from the Sun. There is nothing that I can say, for I fear there is nothing you can hear.

    2. Julie T. says:

      Eric, perhaps you should get off *your* high horse and learn the facts surrounding the Crusades. No credible historian accuses the Catholic Church of the convert-or-die scenario you assert here. Not *one*. That dubious honor belonged to the Muslim invaders of Christian lands when they weren’t in the mood to offer conquered peoples the status dhimmi, second-class (and precarious) citizenship. The irony that history repeats itself today, but perhaps it has escaped your notice because you’ve been too busy grinding that axe you have with the Church.

    3. James Kachman says:

      If you’re honestly interested in the crusades, there’s a book called God’s Battalions. It makes the point that the Crusades were not launched out of a desire for land/loot, or hatred of the Muslim’s beliefs, but as a response to the fact that Muslims were invading Christendom, preventing pilgrimages, and killing Christians. When excesses occurred during the Crusades (they did, welcome to Medieval warfare) the Church was the one standing against and trying to prevent these tragedies. The Crusaders in no way intended to force those in the Holy Land to become Christian, in fact, many Muslims said they found life to be better off in the Crusader Kingdoms compared to Muslim lands.

      And on a different point, even if the Church is full of horrible sinners (oh hey, it is. We all are) it still has the moral truth as handed down to it by God. Sure, Catholics can, and do, suck at adhering to that, but the Church as a whole can and should continue preaching the truth. Which, coincidentally enough, is the entire point of the article.


    4. Antonio A. Badilla says:

      Eric it is high time you check your prejudices. The article has nothing whatever to do with the Crusades that supposedly killed thousands and for which you provide ZERO evidence, and the article has nothing to do with child molestation.

    5. Joe says:

      If you’re making such comments, why are you even here?

    6. gerry says:

      It’s obvious you have an animus against the Church. Is this really the smartest place to display it?

    7. gerry says:

      And to hold the Church responsible for the actions of its members is like saying the Church betrayed Jesus because one of the apostle’s hand picked by Him betrayed Him.

    8. Drew says:

      Also they mix blood in their communion wafers and are cannibals! And they covered up Roswell! Or something! That dastardly, dastardly Catholic Church!

    9. Jason says:

      Surely you jest. The Crusades were much more nuanced and were more than just a butchering of innocents that you describe. It was more than a war of trying to force another to follow their beliefs,

      The sexual abuse you speak of is endemic of our current culture. Yes some idiots thought more of their image than of the children they should protect, yet to level every abuse that has happened on the churches doorstep is ignorance at its best. These abuses have happened everywhere, not just in the church.

      You can now stop riding your horse. Reality will be here for you when you check your facts.

    10. Zeke says:

      Eric, the Church is people. It is not a jest or hypocrisy to state the facts: Church members historically did condemn dueling, as well slavery, some even condemned the Crusades. Sadly, Church members also participated in some awful incidents. All the gifts Christ bestows on his people are free to be chosen or rejected. And you can’t judge the community by it’s mistakes. For example, you could be Catholic – just because you wrote an angry and ignorant post doesn’t mean all Catholics are.

    11. scragsma says:

      You gotta be kidding. Read some real history of the Crusades, my friend, and some real history of the (yes, abhorrent) sexual abuse of children by priests (not for hundreds of years and actually less common than in any other group of men in our society).

  6. Caro says:

    As a young woman, I think we need to offer more classes on NFP to focus on the reasons and logic to what the church teaches.

    1. morganB says:

      Caro, NFP, also called Vatican roulette, was presented to my first wife who could not bear another child. I was thrown out of the confessional when I mentioned contraception to Father Farrelly. That set the stage for my departure.

      1. Ian says:

        If you do NFP right, it’s as effective as contraceptives and actually respects your sexuality. It’s obvious from your phrasing that you weren’t really interested in learning the why or the how.

        It is too bad that a priest threw you out of confession, but that’s not a reason to leave the Church, just a reason to find a new confessor.

      2. Marcie says:

        Morgan B, since you don’t say how long ago you were ‘thrown out’ of the confessional, I’m only guessing here. But NFP is definitely NOT the old “rhythm method” that was used awhile back. It utilizes basal temperatures and/or mucus readings of the woman to accurately predict ovulation, and when to avoid sex. It is 99.6% effective (according to HUNDREDS of studies, including one that was done on 1000′s of illiterate women in India), which is as effective as the BC pill. It uses no nasty chemicals or foreign objects, and is compatibile with Church teaching. My suggestion to you is that you do some research and re-consider your choice to leave the faith. Don’t let one misunderstanding keep the Fullness of Truth from you!

      3. CMoses says:

        Morgan, I’m not sure what year your experience was, but modern day NFP is a far cry from the old rhythm method and has been verified to have a success rate for avoiding pregnancy of 99.6%. Here’s the info on the study. Google it and you can read the research report yourself:
        P. Frank-Hermann, J.Heil, C. Gnoth, et al. “The effectiveness of a fertility awareness based method to avoid pregnancy
        in relation to a couple’s sexual behaviour during the fertile time: a prospective longitudinal study,”Human Reproduction, 2007, 1-10

      4. Brandy says:

        Morgan, anytime you engage in intercourse you run the risk of impregnating your wife. That’s basic biology. No method of contraception is 100% effective except abstinence, which you clearly are not willing to practice. You blame the Church for their teaching on contraception, but from where I stand it is you who are to blame for not loving her enough to put her safety and health above your sexual desires. The priest was right to toss you out of a confessional seeing as you clearly were sinning against your wife and had no intentions of stopping.

      5. MichaelR says:

        MorganB – there is no “roulette” involved in modern NFP. My wife has serious medical issues that preclude us from having more children and we have successfully used NFP now for 5 years.

      6. Nate says:

        If you left because a priest yelled at you, maybe it is because you deserve to be yelled at. Maybe, instead of rejecting the Church’s teaching, you should fully learn what it teaches followed up with WHY she teaches it. I hope your wife is doing alright and that she seeks medical help for the underlying reason as to why it would be dangerous for her to conceive another child. The church doesn’t teach things because it’s the big mean boss, she teaches it because it gives glory to God and rejoices when her children obey him, rather than obeying sin.

      7. Chrys says:

        What a shame you have called it “Vatican Roulette”. The truth is, she may not have been taught, nor consistently used NFP correctly. Naively, decades ago people were teaching the unscientific rhythm method which did not work as well as NFP. NFP has as high as, and even higher than, success rates compared to artificial contraception methods. Even if she had used the Pill, she could have gotten pregnant, and worse, suffered long term health problems as a result of the Pill.

        NFP has even been used successfully by women who thanks to tracking their cycles showed odd patterns to their doctors and were diagnosed with cancer. And now, there are more woman-friendly technologies which help women with fertility issues called NaPro technology. NaPro is NFP friendly.

        In the end, it is a shame that pride, disobedience and lack of understanding led to your departure. But, you are reading this blog site now. Which says you still have something inside of you tugging away wanting to come home to Rome. I pray that your pain and anger are healed and your relationship with the Church is healed. The Church has her arms open to you.

      8. Seth says:

        NFP is not the same as the rhythm method, which was not based on sound science. NFP is simply knowing which days you are infertile and having recourse to those infertile days. Contraception is a sin because its users pretend to have more control over their fertility than the God who made them. If an angry priest was enough to turn you away from the Bride of Christ, then you never really knew Christ in the first place. If you would like to know and hear Christ’s TRUTH, please reconsider your folly and come back to the Church. If your pride will not allow you to do so, then may the Lord have mercy on your soul.

      9. John says:

        morganB, NFP is far more effective than other common forms of artificial birth control, including condoms and the pill. Aside from abstinence, it would have been the safest option for you and your first wife.

        The prohibition against artificial birth control was not made up by the Church or some Pope, it has been revealed by God. Leaving the Church because you disagree with this revelation is like leaving your doctor because he keeps warning you to stop smoking or you’ll get cancer, thinking you’ll be just fine if no one is warning you.

      10. scragsma says:

        I must object to your calling NFP “Vatican roulette”. If you really knew what NFP is, you’d realize that comparing it to a game of chance is ludicrous. NFP is actually more effective than most artificial means of contraception – and WAY more healthy. Study up a bit, and you’ll change your mind.

      11. Maggie Z says:

        NFP is as effective, if not more so, than artificial contraception, which has terrible side effects that include death, cancer and stroke, when trying to avoid pregnancy for a serious reason.

        Being thrown out of a confessional was certainly an error by the priest, even if you were looking for approval to commit a mortal sin. He certainly could have handled your “contraception mention” in a much better way, and used it to point you in the correct direction when it comes to such grave matters in church teaching.

        It is sad that we are so weak as humans, that it only takes the action of one priest to turn us away from God’s one true church.

    2. Antonio A. Badilla says:

      I agree.

      1. gerry says:

        One might note that two men, Morgan (a divorcee I assume) and Antonio, are trying to impose their will on women. And their will involves having women ingest a carcinogen so that they may use them for pleasure.

        1. Rich says:

          Contraception opened the door to objectifying of women…along with porn. Not women are just there for men’s “needs”. How sad. Prayers for all.

      2. Conrad Reynoldson says:

        NFP can actually prove equally as effective as artificial contraception when followed so no need to mock it with names like Vatican Roulette

    3. Gen says:

      Classes for NFP can be found here… Check this site out: They even have online courses if none are offered in your area. I learned about NFP during my Engagement encounter retreat and have used it faithfully for 3 years now. Now the logic and reason behind it’s use (NFP vs contraception) is not discussed in great depth in these NFP courses…. You have to get that information supplemented from other resources like Theology of the Body (TOB). There is also what we call NaPro technology for those couples that may have fertility issues. You can find providers (MD’s, NP’s and PA’s) who are NaPro trained to assist you in gyn/ob issues at Also if you have a Catholic Medical Association in your area, I am sure they have listings of Catholic providers as well.
      I do agree with you that there needs to be more readily available resources on these types of classes especially at the parish level to help educate laity. A great idea would be to integrate both (TOB and NFP) as a course at parishes.
      Hope those links help…

    4. John Fox says:

      Agreed Caro, and morganB is uninformed about NFP.

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