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On "Humanae Vitae"


The Catholic Church’s teaching on unlawful birth control is one of the most controversial, unaccepted teachings among the laity and, sad to say, among the clergy. Pope Paul VI, in 1968, shocked the Church with one of the most prophetic encyclicals of this century, Humanae Vitae. Unfortunately, many people have not taken the time to read and examine this encyclical. Thus, much ignorance exists within and from without the Church.

To understand why the Church is opposed to contraceptive birth control, one must first understand the sacrament of marriage. Looked at from a theological point of view, when a man and woman come together as one before God, they enter into a covenant, as Christ (bridegroom) has with his Church (the bride). Humanae Vitae talks of this married love as being fully human, total, faithful, and fecund or bringing forth life. Marriage is an act of the free will, in which, both members give themselves completely and faithfully to one another. This love and union between the two, can, if God’s will, produce another life. In addition, Humanae Vitae teaches the responsibility of parenthood. Man, naturally has drives and emotions, and has control over them, which is necessary in parenthood. Couples may recognize times when it might be difficult to raise children. Social, psychological, physical, and economical conditions need to be considered when planning to have children. However, couples must always involve God the Creator. They must remain obedient to the moral order, which God has designed. This brings us to the focus of Humanae Vitae. Married couples engaged in the conjugal act must be open to the transmission of life.

The Church states that one can never do evil as a means or an end. Thus, in Humanae Vitae, abortion and contraceptive birth control, including direct sterilization, as a means or an end are condemned by the Church. The conjugal act is meant to be life-giving and love-giving, or procreative and unitive. Scripture, in Gen. 2: 24 says that man will leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two become one body(unitive). Further on, in Gen. 35: 11, God commands, to be fruitful and multiply (procreation). Contraception eliminates the total self giving of love between couples. It says that ‘I give all my self to you, except this part’. It also eliminates the possibility to bring forth life. It puts man, who is to be the minister of God’s design, in the position of Creator, which only God can be. In being open to the transmission of life, God does not tell us to ignore existing social, economic, physical, or psychological problems in a marriage. Rather, God has given women a natural cycle. This cycle consists of times when a woman is infertile. A couple can engage in the conjugal act in these infertile times and prevent a pregnancy for the time being. This type of birth control still includes God and the conjugal love between the two. Contraceptive birth control, however, separates God from the conjugal act, and thus, is grave sin.

Pope Paul VI, in a prophetic way, warned all what would happen if these unlawful birth control methods were used. He said there would be a lowering of moral standards and marital infidelity. In addition, he mentioned that young people would be tempted easily to break the moral law. Paul VI also said women would become mere objects for men’s satisfaction. Abortion, divorce rates (50 - 60 %), teen pregnancies, prostitution, etc., all show the accuracy of Paul VI’s predictions.

Finally, Paul VI gives couples a positive view of chastity. When couples exercise control over their emotions and drives, they develop personalities and are spiritually blessed by the Creator. In addition, they learn consideration and thoughtfulness, as well as awareness of responsibility. Lastly, couples influence and teach their children important values to use in their own future.

The authority of the Church is extremely important in regards to this issue. There are many who feel that contraception is strictly a matter of conscience for the particular couple. Unfortunately, people do not realize that this conscience is to be well informed within each individual, thus using intellect to guide our will. The Catholic Church, with her Magisterium in union with the Pope, is the authentic interpreter and guardian of the whole natural moral law. In other words, the teaching on contraception is an authoritative teaching, at the very least, of the Church. In my opinion, it could be considered an ordinary infallible teaching, but many may disagree. Regardless, all the faithful are to submit their mind and will to the Church, and in doing so, it would be very difficult to go against this teaching in one’s own well-formed conscience.

In closing, Humanae Vitae appeals to all men and women of the world. There are many faith filled answers to explain why the Church condemns unlawful birth control practices among married couples. The faithful must see why the Church, interpreting and guarding the moral law of God, speaks out against these practices. The sacrament of marriage calls couples to live in union with one another and to be open to the transmission of life. God must remain the Lord of each couples’ lives. Even from reason alone, couples can begin to understand the Church’s teaching. Paul VI predicted the negative effects of entering into these unlawful birth control practices. We today are seeing the result of the past generation’s neglect to listen to Paul VI on this teaching. Contraceptive birth control hurts all involved. It hurts society as a whole and the married couples themselves and their relationship with God. Perhaps someday, those who laugh at the Church from within and from without, will see her great and holy wisdom on issues pertaining to faith and morals.

John Sistare, Seminarian of Diocese of Providence

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