“The question the birth control advocate dreads is ‘Why has not the workman a better wage? Why has not the slum family a better house?’ His way of escaping from it is to suggest, not a larger house but a smaller family. The landlord or the employer says in his hearty and handsome fashion: ‘You really cannot expect me to deprive myself of my money. But I will make a sacrifice, I will deprive myself of your children.'”— G. K. Chesterton
July 29, 2018, marked the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical letter entitled Humanae Vitae (HV) What a bombshell for many of the men and women advising the Pope to deviate from teaching traditional moral doctrine with regard to marriage and family life. What a tempest it caused for the Church being told to get with the program. It was the start of the battle with the age of intellectualism and scientism. What a whammy for Populationists who preached that there were already too many people on Planet Earth. They prophesied the same old morality would be the direct cause of unnecessary and tragic loss of life. What a warning sign for bishops and clergy who had already promised their flock that the Church would change. What a blessing for people looking for reassurances with regard to God’s constancy. And what a gnashing of teeth for those about to declare war with the Church.
Bishop Barron reminded Irish Catholics at the recent World Meeting of the Families in Ireland of this: sexuality must always be under the aegis of love and for good reasons. And then he listed them. Imagine if Pope Paul VI had declared that marriage, family life and sexuality didn’t need to be protected by boundaries or moral laws and conditions! What would today look like if the Pope had issued any variances from Catholic moral teaching regarding these? Did the encyclical really matter in the long run?
I believe it made a difference then, and continues to make a difference today. It proved “that the Church, no less than her Divine founder, is destined to be a sign of contradiction. She does not, because of this, evade the duty imposed on her of proclaiming humbly but firmly the entire moral law — both natural and evangelical. Since the Church did not make either laws, she cannot be their arbiter — only their guardian and interpreter. It could never be right for her to declare lawful what is in fact unlawful, since that, by its very nature is always opposed to the true good of man. In preserving intact the whole moral law of marriage, the Church is convinced that she is contributing to the creation of a truly human civilization. She urges man not to betray his personal responsibilities by putting all his faith in technical expedients. In this way she defends the dignity of husband and wife. This course of action shows that the Church, loyal to the example and teaching of the divine Savior, is sincere and unselfish in her regard for men whom she strives to help even now during this earthly pilgrimage to share God’s life as sons of the living God, the Father of all men.” (HV 18)
That message is truly reassuring for Catholics who love their faith. The contradictions that exist within any institution means that good people have to right the wrongs of human designs while relying on God’s laws that are the same today, yesterday and tomorrow.
As a society, we have surely slipped down some very treacherous slopes regarding human life, family life and marriage. And these slopes could get infinitely steeper and more dangerous as we exchange God’s laws for human laws. Yet, we cling to our faith wherein hope bids us to look for the only ark that can save a growing race.
It’s not difficult to imagine tomorrow if we continue to ignore Humanae Vitae and all the other encyclicals about life and love that were issued since Humane Vitae. Obviously, a very large number of people treated the encyclical as if it didn’t exist right from the start. Many young Catholics probably don’t know it exists or its origins. How do I know this? Because two many young, engaged couples tell us they were never taught that the Church still opposed birth control and for reasons they couldn’t understand. This means that a lot of parents, pastoral care givers, married couples, engaged couples; public authorities; scientists; family apostolates; doctors and nurses, and especially priests and Bishops ignored Humane Vitae and/or openly dissented from it.
Pope Paul VI was acutely aware of would happen if large numbers of Catholics renounced Humane Vitae’s inspirational instructions. He described the scenarios. Married couples would claim that it is extremely difficult and nearly impossible to live out faithful and exclusive marriages for a lifetime unless they had access to artificial birth control.And that is what happened.Just a few years before the release of Humane Vitae , California became the first state to pass a No-Fault Divorce Decree. Eventually all fifty States not have adopted no-fault divorce law decrees. It used to be difficult to get any divorce without proving fault, today, obtaining a divorce doesn’t need any reason. Statista reports that the millennial generation is less likely to get married than previous generations for three reasons: number of unskilled men, lack of belief in lasting marriages, and a decrease in religious affiliations… [https://www.statista.com/statistics/183663/number-of-married-couples-in-the-us/] “In 1960, 72% of all adults [over the age of 18] were married vs. 51% today. If current trends continue… the numbers married will drop to below half shortly. Cohabitation, single-person households and single parenthood have all grown more prevalent…” [Pew Research Center] By way of contrast, NFP users [NFP’ers] are able to live faithful and exclusive marriages without contraception or abortion and some suggest with significantly lower divorce rates although the studies on that are few and limited in scope.
Pope Paul VI warned that we would being to act as if pregnancy and birth would be “wholly up to them to decide the right course rather than ensuring that what they do corresponds to the will of God the Creator.” Today, too many fail to understand this next exhortation:“The very nature of marriage and its use makes His Will clear while the constant teaching of the Church spells it out.” (HV:10 Par 6]
Pope Paul VI also predicted that mankind would begin to act as if they were the “master of the sources of life rather than ministers of a design established by the Creator.” And he offered this chilly prediction: abortion and sterilization would soon follow because both efficiently and effectively regulate the number of children.
Pope Paul VI predicted that birth control would pave the way for marital infidelity and a lowering of moral standards. The Gallup Poll [June 1, 2018US] reported that more than three in four Americans say morals are getting worse. Republicans and Democrats are about equally negative on US morals. Forty-nine percent of Americans say the state of moral values in the US is "poor" -- the highest percentage in Gallup's trend on this measure since its inception in 2002. Note the similarity in wording with HV.
One of the most profound predictions was this. Young people would naturally break from sexual abstinence when they had ready access to birth control. Today’s teens [ages 15 - 19] account for nearly 20% of all US pregnancies yearly and a full twenty-nine percent opt for abortion. Pope Paul VI warned that it is “an evil thing to make it easy for the young people to break that moral law.” Presumably, he was thinking about Jesus’s warning [Mark 9:42]: Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”
Pope Paul VI also predicted that men would forget the reverence due to a woman and disregard her physical and emotional equilibrium and reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires with the adoption of contraception, abortion, and pornography. The latter is just one more rotten fruit that falls from the tree promising sexuality need not come under the aegis of love. The #Me Too Movement proves that women are used and abused by too many male predators.
Finally, the pope wrote the following. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measure as are regarded as lawful by married people. 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… [HV 17] The readers are immediately reminded of the many different international aid packages directly tied to population control programs; the disabilities - free policies in different nations; and China’s One Child Program.
Many members of Humane Vitae's commission appointed by Pope Paul VI and his predecessor proposed approaches and criteria that were at odds with the Pope and the Church that was founded by Jesus Christ.
Many fans tried to set Jesus straight as well. They used persuasion, accusations, false flattery and palm branches trying to encourage him to pivot right or left. When that didn’t work, they called for his execution. And so, He is still being tested along with his Church. We are also tested by the various encyclicals that head off various human inclinations and wrong thinking. Granted, the encyclicals are difficult reads that call for personal reflection; however, they are worth the effort especially since they pose these personal questions to the readers: What about you? Will you also go away? [John 6:67]
What does this statement mean to you? Sexuality must be under the aegis of love.
Does Humanae Vitae affect you? How so?
Do you understand the teachings repeated in Humanae Vitae? What do they personally tell you?