In my last installment, I mentioned this post would be about my discovery of Humanae Vitae (of Human Life), Pope Paul VI’s prophetic encyclical on human life and the regulation of birth. Written in 1968 as a response to the growing question of birth control, the pope endeavored to address this issue in the light of the teaching authority of the Church.
This should be one of the first items to read if you truly wish to learn why the Church stands by this teaching that has existed for over 2,000 years. It is easy to read and understand; not lots of fluff, pomp and circumstance; just a concise, morally accurate account of our Church’s ethical stance on marriage, sexuality and human life.
Obviously the 1960’s brought about many moral and social changes, including the “sexual revolution” and “the pill”. Some of these topics were addressed in Vatican II documents, namely Gaudium et spes (Joy and Hope), but a more specific discussion was needed to provide a definitive declaration of the Church’s position on this topic. I was in elementary school when it was published, but I do remember through the years hearing how controversial it was and in many cases, unpopular. What strikes me as particularly interesting about negative reactions is the fact that up until about 1930, all denominations of Christianity denounced artificial birth control. Although a number of denominations still only approve of it in the context of marriage (since they also teach sex outside marriage is a sin), thirty years later the Catholic Church stands alone in rejecting artificial birth control.
After reading it, I am even more convinced not only of the wisdom of this document, but of the prophetic outcome that has resulted from uncontrolled use of the pill. The pope predicted that with its rampant use would come a 1) general lowering of morality, 2) marital infidelity, 3) men would begin to lack respect for women, treating them as objects for their own pleasure rather than “his respected and beloved companion.” and 4) as acceptance of contraception becomes widespread, it would become a “dangerous weapon” in the hands of governments who have no moral constraints.
I hardly think the outcome of his predictions are imperceptible to anyone. The evidence is clear in areas such as divorce, sexually transmitted diseases, pornography, abortion, babies born of unwed mothers and restrictive family-size laws in countries that perform forced abortions and sterilizations. Although none of these situations was unknown in 1968, who would have guessed to what degree they would increase? But as in all of human history, we ignore the prophetic warnings and believe WE are in control!
One thing in Pope Paul’s encyclical that I find heartening is his statement about our ability to follow the discipline required to live within marriage without contraception. He says that although it demands continued effort…”Such discipline bestows upon family life fruits of serenity and peace; and facilitates the solution of other problems; it favors attention for one’s partner, helps both parties to drive out selfishness, the enemy of true love, and deepens their sense of responsibility.” What marriage could not benefit from living life in this manner?
So as unpopular as this view might be, popularity is far outweighed by wisdom. And I, for one, plan to follow this wisdom rather than believe I am in control!