Published in Catholic Insight, September, 2008.
By Msgr. Vincent Foy
The full text of Humanae vitae may be found on the Vatican website under Encyclicals. The encyclical teaches nothing new, but reaffirms the teaching against contraception “which has been handed down from the beginning until now” in the words of Pope Pius XI, on Dec. 31, 1930, in his encyclical on marriage (Casti Connubii).
What makes the reading and study of Humanae Vitae so important today is that its teaching remains under unprecedented attack. That attack has been from within. It is as though the World, the Flesh, and the Devil had conspired against God’s love.
To defend Humanae Vitae one does not have to be a philosopher, theologian or scientist. One need know only the basics of the Catholic Faith.
Cardinal Newman tells us that the very essence of our revealed religion is authority, coming down from God and Christ through Peter and his successors to us. The Pope has the right to speak in the name of the Church as its Head and Vicar of Christ by his own authority (cf. Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, n. 22). The encyclical makes it clear that it conveys the Church’s teaching: “The Church teaches… that each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life” (H.V. n.11).
To make it abundantly clear that it is in his capacity as Vicar of Christ that he is speaking, the Pope says: “We, by virtue of the mandate entrusted to Us by Christ, intend to give Our reply to this series of grave questions” (H.V. n.6). To obviate objections on the extent of the Church’s mandate, the Pope affirms that it extends to the whole moral law, including the natural law. “For the natural law, too, declares the Will of God, and its faithful observance is necessary for man’s eternal salvation” (H.V. n.4).
There we have it. The teaching of Humanae Vitae is given us with the authority of Christ. The lips proclaiming it are the lips of Pope Paul VI, but the message is that of Christ Himself. The consequences are great and good.
The fruits of dissent
There are great evils in the world today, but the greatest is the Contraceptive Mentality, parent of the Culture of Death. It is anti-God, anti-Church, anti-society, anti-family, anti-spousal and anti-self.
Contraception makes a lie of the marriage covenant. There is no longer total self-giving in the marriage act. It no longer symbolizes the union of Christ with his Church. It is a broken, defaced mockery of that union. Contraception replaces self-giving love with the hate of marital abuse. Because it is a species of infidelity within marriage, it makes spouses enemies of one another, cooperators in each other’s spiritual ruin. When the marriage is entered into with the intention to exclude the right to children, that marriage is null and void.
The fruits of assent
On the other hand, great and good are the fruits of obedience to Humanae Vitae.
As St. John tells us, God is love, and so marriage is from love and for love. It is “the wise institution of the Creator to realize in mankind His design of love” (H.V. n.8). The encyclical is a support of the three essential goods of marriage: fidelity, permanence and openness to human life.
In paragraph 21 of the encyclical, some of the fruits of acceptance of God’s law of love are enumerated. These include enrichment of the personalities of the spouses with spiritual values, serenity and peace and facilitation of the solution of many problems.
The late great theologian, Father John Hardon S.J., gave a lecture towards the end of his life, entitled “Our Greatest Moral Responsibility: to Convert the Contraceptive Mentality.” May we all take upon ourselves a share of that responsibility.
St. Augustine tells us that we are living in the land of the dying, but this land of the dying is God’s way of leading us to the land of eternal life. We ought to pray for those who are contracepting. God’s mercy calls them to repentance, restoration to peace, grace, true love and then, to eternal life.