Ladies and Gentlemen! Due to popular demand, you all want me to tell you a lovely short story about Humanae Vitae. A story that I think most of you believe is going to be about sex and scandal and contraception. The turmoil and the evil, the predictions and the good. However, you are wrong if you think this. Granted all artificial contraceptions are wrong and Humanae Vitae really was a prophecy in more than one way. But alas, this story is about infallibility.
To start, let us have a short review for those of you readers that were not around 45 years ago when Pope Paul promulgated the decree that renewed the Catholic church’s ban on all artificial forms of birth control.
In 1930 it all began when Pope Pius XI first imposed the ban six months after the Anglican Lambeth Conference allowed its church’s married couples to decide the issue by themselves.The movement slowly progressed and for thirty long years the Church was bantered by secular society to hop upon the band wagon and put the first nail in the coffin. Until finally it seemed like to much for the Church to ignore any more. So in October 1964, several Catholic bishops raised the issue of birth control for a second discussion during a conversation of marriage and the family at the Second Vatican Council. Cardinal Leon-Joseph Suenens of Malines-Brussels specifically pleaded with his brother bishops to study the issue and “avoid another Galileo affair. One [failure of the church to keep abreast of scientific advances] is enough.”
Pope Paul, however, saw this and decided to tak the birth control issue off the council’s table. He quickly announcing it would be decided by his interaction with the Pontifical Birth Control Commission. A more specialized council to hopefully give a better and more detailed perspective. Now, an interesting fact about this council is that it was started by Pope John XXIII with only 6 members. However, from 1963 to 1966 Pope Paul had expanded it to 72 members from five continents (including 16 theologians, 13 physicians and five women without medical credentials, with an executive committee of 16 bishops, including seven cardinals.)
So by June 1966, when the commission turned over its final report, it is safe to say that this was a council hand selected by Pope Paul to discern the ramifications of this issue. And so it goes that when they turned over their final report, they asked the Holy Father to take into account “the fruitfulness of an entire marriage” rather than focusing on individual sexual acts.
They had agreed with the Anglican Church and had come to the conclusion thatartificial birth control was not intrinsically evil and that Catholic couples should be allowed to decide for themselves about the methods to be employed. According to the majority report, use of contraceptives should be regarded as an extension of the already accepted cycle method:
The acceptance of a lawful application of the calculated sterile periods of the woman–that the application is legitimate presupposes right motives–makes a separation between the sexual act which is explicitly intended and its reproductive effect which is intentionally excluded. The tradition has always rejected seeking this separation with a contraceptive intention for motives spoiled by egoism and hedonism, and such seeking can never be admitted. The true opposition is not to be sought between some material conformity to the physiological processes of nature and some artificial intervention. For it is natural to man to use his skill in order to put under human control what is given by physical nature. The opposition is really to be sought between one way of acting which is contraceptive and opposed to a prudent and generous fruitfulness, and another way which is, in an ordered relationship to responsible fruitfulness and which has a concern for education and all the essential, human and Christian values.
However, this is not the end of the story. Pope Paul VI saw this and he thought. In fact, he prayed. And two years later, Pope Paul published his decision in Humanae Vitae, in which he acknowledges “the value of conjugal love in marriage and the relationship of conjugal acts to this love” but reasserts, “The church … teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.” Completely disagreeing with the decisions from the council that he, himself, had selected.
Now although, the Encyclical “Humanae Vitae” is not a document of the infallible magisterium. We hold that the Pope taught, with the divine assistance he enjoys (cf. “Lumen Gentium”, n. 25a), what the Church’s ordinary Magisterium had always
held to be true and right, and what had been reconfirmed by the extraordinary Magisterium of Vatican II.
So in the end, for me personally, I enjoy the story because it shows in a light that the Church and the Pope is guided by the Holy Spirit. That despite popular belief and ideas from councils, in prayer and thought the Truth will come out, be affirmed and prevail.
I hope you enjoyed this article, may God love you and please vote for the next post. – The Hound
- Hoyt, Robert G. (ed.), ed. (1968). “I. Documents from the Papal Commission”. The birth control debate. Kansas City: National Catholic Reporter. pp. 15–111.
- “Reveal papal birth control texts”. National Catholic Reporter 3 (25): 1, 3, 8–12. 1967-04-19.
- Fox, Thomas (2011-03-23). “New birth control commission papers reveal Vatican’s hand”. National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved 2012-09-259.
- Humanae Vitae: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae_en.html