Archive for the ‘Covenant Theology’ Category

Natural Family Planning and the Covenant Theology

Sunday, October 11th, 2020

Your Right to Know: Covenant Theology

The most basic framework of God’s relationship with man is the covenant. The first was God’s covenant with Noah and every living creature—“never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Gen 9:11). The second covenant was with Abram (Gen 15:18) and then renewed when his name was changed to Abraham (Gen 17:9-14). The third covenant was with Moses and was sealed with the blood of the oxen that had been sacrificed as Moses said, “Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words,” and the people committed themselves to living by the Covenant (Ex 24:8). The final covenant of the Old Covenant was made with David, the promise of God that a son of David would establish an everlasting kingdom (2 Sam 7:12-13). Finally, the work of the Old Covenant was completed and the Lord Jesus, the Son of David, established the New Covenant as He gave himself up for us. “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).

A covenant is a promise that cannot be broken and it covers everything. A contract stipulates only certain things on which the parties agree and generally will also state the conditions under which the parties agree to void the contract. In the first two covenants, God makes unilateral promises. In the covenant with David, he also promises to punish those descendant kings who violate the covenant, and the sorry record of the king-sons of David is so bad that only two or three of them receive favorable comment by the authors of the Old Testament books. But the promise held.

Marriage is also a covenant. When Jesus was challenged by the Pharisees about marriage and divorce, he surprised his questioners. The Jews of that time took it for granted that a man could divorce his wife and remarry. The dispute among them was whether a man needed a serious reason (e.g., adultery), or “for any cause” (e.g., being a lousy cook) as the question was phrased in Matthew 19:3. Jesus asked them what they had from Moses, and they replied, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to put her away.” (This proof of divorce at least protected a woman from being treated like a yo-yo.) But Jesus replied, “For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one.’ What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mark 10:2-9).

In brief, the men of his time wanted to treat marriage as a contract, but Jesus went back to the very order of creation and taught that marriage is a covenant, something that covers everything and lasts until death separates the spouses.

The rainbow was the sign of the covenant with Noah. Beginning with the covenant with Abraham, the sign of the Old Covenant was circumcision of the men. Beginning with Jesus, the sign of the New Covenant is his own Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Each Mass provides us with the opportunity to renew this covenant with the Lord. As St Paul wrote; “…The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor 11:23-26).

In marriage, the sign of the covenant is the marriage act, the sexual union of male husband and female wife. This is a God-given act that by its very nature is oriented toward the co-creation of children and the bonding of the spouses. The marriage act is intended by God to be a renewal of the marriage covenant.

But the renewal of the covenant is not automatic. St. Paul warns us that we can sin by defrauding the New Covenant. “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself” (1 Cor 11: 27-29). This is why the Church teaches that if you are conscious of having committed a mortal sin, you need to repent and receive the sacrament of Penance before receiving Holy Communion.

What makes the marriage act morally different from the same physical act between two people who are not married? It’s the same anatomical act, but there is a world of difference. Sacred Scripture and Tradition describe as seriously immoral all those sexual acts that do not occur within marriage. In other words, in God’s plan, sexual intercourse is intended to be exclusively a marriage act, and within marriage those acts ought to be at least implicitly an authentic renewal of the marriage covenant, that is, at least not contradicting it in any way.

It sometimes helps to remember just what a man and woman do when they “commit marriage.” They promise to love each other, and that entails caring love, not just romantic love. They promise to be faithful to each other. They vow to love and be faithful for better and for worse, knowing full well that there will be difficult times as well as the best of times. And they vow to keep this commitment until death do they part.

Wow! How can those who recognize their own weaknesses and sins write such a blank check to the other person before God? Millions do so every year because they believe that this is God’s plan for love and sexuality and that He will provide all the graces they need to persevere through whatever marital difficulties they will encounter.

The marriage act can also be defrauded, and in more ways than one. There is such a thing as marital rape, and that is certainly not a renewal of the marriage covenant. If you keep in mind that the marriage act ought to be a renewal of the commitment, the caring love, and the for-better-and-for worse of the marriage covenant, then it is not difficult to see that contraception is not a renewal of the marriage covenant. Marital contraception says, “I take you for better but positively not for the imagined worse of possible pregnancy.” It contradicts the “for better and for worse” of the marriage covenant. It pretends to be what it isn’t. It is dishonest and therefore immoral.

The concept is simple: Sexual intercourse is intended by God to be at least implicitly a renewal of the marriage covenant. What I have tried to do in this article is to place that concept in the context of the Commandments, the biblical covenant, and marriage itself.

For more on the analogy between the Eucharistic and marital communions, see .

John F. Kippley

Natural Family Planning and the Marriage Covenant

Sunday, April 26th, 2020

The Covenant Meaning of the Marriage Act. Is there a meaning to human sexual behavior?  We offer a positive faith-based answer.  Sexual intercourse is intended by God to be, at least implicitly, a renewal of the marriage covenant.  This means that human sexual acts outside of marriage are contrary to God’s plan for love and life.  Within marriage, the marriage act ought to be a true marriage act, one that reflects the covenant that husband and wife made when they married.  The marriage act ought to express the self-giving love and for-better-and-for-worse commitment they pledged to each other including the sometimes imagined worse of possible pregnancy.  This helps to explain the traditional biblically-based Christian rejection of marital contraception. (Protestant-majority state legislatures passed the anti-contraception laws of the 1870s.)

No one can force somebody else to accept that meaning of the human sexual act.  Our experience, however, in teaching engaged and married couples, including many who were using barrier or chemical birth control at the time, is that the most frequent reaction is this: “Why haven’t we heard this before?  It makes sense.”

One of the great social problems of our day is the large percentage of babies conceived out of wedlock and born into a single-parent family.  There are conflicting explanations for this, but there seems to be universal agreement at least on this: “If we have learned any policy lesson well over the past 25 years, it is that for children living in single-parent homes, the odds of living in poverty are great. The policy implications of the increase in out-of-wedlock births are staggering” (Brookings website).

But what if?  What if it becomes part of American culture that there is a built-in meaning to sex?  What if adolescents as well as adults learned that it is dishonest to have sex outside of marriage?  What if a girl being propositioned could say, “I believe that’s dishonest.  You’re asking me to engage in the marriage act.  Now, if you are asking me to marry you, let’s talk about how you are going to support our family…”

And what if our boys were also being educated on the dishonesty of having sex outside of marriage?  Our opinion: very few people like to think of themselves as dishonest.

After learning about the marriage covenant, an engaged couple taking the Home Study Course summarized it in their own words:   “A covenant is intended by God to be a lifelong fruitful relationship between a man and a woman. Marriage is a vow to God, to each other, our families and our community to remain steadfast in unconditional love, reconciliation and sexual purity, while purposefully growing in our covenant marriage relationship.”

John and Sheila Kippley

Natural Family Planning: The Covenant Theology

Sunday, August 11th, 2019

“I read your book Sex and the Marriage Covenant many years ago, and it had a profound effect on my understanding and on my priestly ministry.  I thank you for the wonderful work you have been engaged in over the years on behalf of the dignity of human life, Christian marriage, and human sexuality and the promotion of Natural Family Planning.  God bless you!”  (a priest in WV; August 2019))

That compliment was in response to a blog we ran during NFP Awareness Week, so we running that blog again.  (Also, due to computer problems, we did not have a new blog ready by deadline time.  The idea that the marriage act ought to be a renewal of the marriage covenant was new at the  time; the idea that the marriage act could be compared to Holy Communion was also unheard of at the time and proved controversial.  Some years later St. Pope John Paul II further developed the idea.)

John:  In our first years of marriage, I worked as a lay evangelist in Santa Clara, and one Saturday morning early in 1966 I attended a lecture on birth control by Michael Novak at a parish in Palo Alto.  I can’t remember a thing he said, but what stayed with me was the manner in which he answered questions; it certainly seemed to me that he was undermining faith in the received teaching [about birth control].  I was doing my best to uphold this teaching, and his comments left me angry.

By the time I was home again, I was ready to write a defense and explanation of the received teaching that had been reaffirmed by Pope Pius XI in Casti Connubii in 1930.  I began writing that afternoon and concluded my article late Sunday afternoon.  Never before or after have I been able to write like that.    Titled “Holy Communion: Eucharistic and Marital,” it drew a five-fold analogy between the worthy reception of the Holy Eucharist and the worthy marriage act.

I will list them here very briefly and I urge the interested reader to read the article at

  1. Both are the results of sacraments. The first requires the Sacrament of Holy Orders which enables the priest to act in the person of Christ to bring about the changing of the bread and wine into the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus. The lawful marriage act requires that the spouses be married so that their physical union can be a marriage act. The Catholic Church teaches that a valid marriage between two Christians constitutes the Sacrament of Matrimony.
  2. Both are the results of a sacrificial offering: the first by the Lord Jesus on the cross, and the second by the spouses as they promise to love and to remain faithful to each other for better and for worse till death parts them.
  3. Both embody a bodily gift of self. This is quite obvious in the case of the Lord Jesus, but also in marriage the act ought to be a gift of self, at least not in any way opposed to the gift promised in making their marriage covenant.
  4. A renewal of the covenant. In receiving the Holy Eucharist, we implicitly renew our baptismal covenant with the Lord Jesus, both affirming our desire to walk with Him and asking for the strength to do so. In the marriage act, spouses are called to renew, at least implicitly, the faith and love and commitment of their original marriage covenant.
  5. The manner in which each covenant was sealed. The New Covenant announced at the Last Supper was sealed by the total self-giving of the Lord Jesus on the cross the next day. The marriage covenant is sealed by the spouses’ first marriage act which is a symbol of the total gift of the spouses to each other. Does a contracepted act constitute a true marriage act for purposes of Canon Law? That question goes beyond my competence, but the question certainly has been raised.

This is all too brief.  I hope you will read the original article that was published in Ave Maria magazine on February 25, 1967, exactly 17 months before Humanae Vitae.

John F. Kippley
Sex and the Marriage Covenant