Friday, July 25, 2008

This day 40 years ago: Humanae Vitae - July 25, 1968

It was this day, 40 years ago, that Pope Paul VI gave to the Church one of the most prophetic encyclicals - one that would be dissented against by lay people and cleric alike. The Encyclical Letter, Humanae Vitae - on Human Life is far better understood today, and in increasing numbers followed, as people become better informed.

It was the document that clarified contraception. Why? In a nutshell, God is the author of life and when two people, joined in Sacramental Marriage engage in the marital act, it is not only unitive for them, but is procreative and must be open to life.

This document is now online at the Vatican's website and it takes just one evening to read (I was about 3/4 through in less than an hour and will probably finish it tonight). Here are some excerpts with emphasis mine in bold, added emphasis in blue, and comments in red.

Union and Procreation

12. This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.

The reason is that the fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life—and this as a result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman. And if each of these essential qualities, the unitive and the procreative, is preserved, the use of marriage fully retains its sense of true mutual love and its ordination to the supreme responsibility of parenthood to which man is called. We believe that our contemporaries are particularly capable of seeing that this teaching is in harmony with human reason.

I found this interesting...

Faithfulness to God's Design

13. Men rightly observe that a conjugal act imposed on one's partner without regard to his or her condition or personal and reasonable wishes in the matter, is no true act of love, and therefore offends the moral order in its particular application to the intimate relationship of husband and wife. If they further reflect, they must also recognize that an act of mutual love which impairs the capacity to transmit life which God the Creator, through specific laws, has built into it, frustrates His design which constitutes the norm of marriage, and contradicts the will of the Author of life. Hence to use this divine gift while depriving it, even if only partially, of its meaning and purpose, is equally repugnant to the nature of man and of woman, and is consequently in opposition to the plan of God and His holy will. But to experience the gift of married love while respecting the laws of conception is to acknowledge that one is not the master of the sources of life but rather the minister of the design established by the Creator. Just as man does not have unlimited dominion over his body in general, so also, and with more particular reason, he has no such dominion over his specifically sexual faculties, for these are concerned by their very nature with the generation of life, of which God is the source. "Human life is sacred—all men must recognize that fact," Our predecessor Pope John XXIII recalled. "From its very inception it reveals the creating hand of God." (13)

Many rebelled against it, and I know of women who tell me that word circulated about which confessors they could go to who would not condemn contraception. But, at what cost was all this dissent done? When I say it was prophetic, here is just one paragraph from the encyclical:

Consequences of Artificial Methods

17. Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards [we often wonder just how low those moral standards can go - I don't even think Pope Paul could fully comprehend them all back then]. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife [thus hindering the actions of God, the author of life].

Contraception has cost millions of babies their lives. Many do not know that the pill can actually be an abortifacient. We are now fighting against things like human cloning and embryonic stem cell research which sacrifices one human being for others. Women have become mere objects of sex, and for many women, so have men. It is mere recreation in many societies today, without any due care for what is pleasing or displeasing to God. So many have sex outside of marriage, and in extra marital affiars without any thought that they are violating the most basic laws laid down in the Ten Commandments. They are now treated as nothing more than the Ten Suggestions.

More on Humanae Vitae:

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The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church; it is the disobedient who are held captive by the world!