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Humanae Vitae (Latin: Of Human Life)

Pope Paul VI Issued Humanae Vitae on 25 July 1968

Summary

Affirmation of traditional teaching

In this encyclical Paul VI reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s traditional view of marriage and marital relations and a continued condemnation of artificial birth control. There were two Papal committees and numerous independent experts looking into the latest advancement of science and medicine on the question of artificial birth control,[2] which were noted by the Pope in his encyclical.[3] The expressed views of Paul VI reflected the teachings of his predecessors, especially Pius XI,[4]Pius XII[5] and John XXIII,[6] all of whom had insisted on the divine obligations of the marital partners in light of their partnership with God the creator.

Doctrinal Basis

Paul VI himself, even as commission members issued their personal views over the years, always reaffirmed the teachings of the Church, repeating them more than once in the first years of his Pontificate.[7]

To Pope Paul VI, as with of all his predecessors, marital relations are much more than a union of two people. They constitute a union of the loving couple with a loving God, in which the two persons create a new person materially, while God completes the creation by adding the soul. For this reason, Paul VI teaches in the first sentence of Humanae Vitae, that the transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator.[8] This is divine partnership, so Paul VI does not allow for arbitrary human decisions, which may limit divine providence. The Pope does not paint an overly romantic picture of marriage: Marital relations are a source of great joy, but also of difficulties and hardships.[8] The question of human procreation, exceeds in the view of Paul VI specific disciplines such as biology, psychology, demography or sociology.[9] According to Paul VI, married love takes its origin from God, who “is love”, and from this basic dignity, he defines his position:

  • Love is total — that very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions and not thinking solely of their own convenience. Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for the partner’s own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself.[10]

The encyclical opens with an assertion of the competency of the

English: Pope Paul VI

English: Pope Paul VI (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

magisterium of the Catholic Church to decide questions of morality. It then goes on to observe that circumstances often dictate that married couples should limit the number of children, and that the sexual act between husband and wife is still worthy even if it can be foreseen not to result in procreation. Nevertheless, it is held that the sexual act must “retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life”, and the “direct interruption of the generative process already begun” is unlawful.[citation needed]

Every action specifically intended to prevent procreation is forbidden, except in medically necessary circumstances. Therapeutic means necessary to cure diseases are exempted, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result, but only if infertility is not directly intended.[11] This includes both chemical and barrier methods of contraception.[citation needed] All these are held to directly contradict the “moral order which was established by God”. Abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, is absolutely forbidden, as is sterilization, even if temporary. Therapeutic means which induce infertility are allowed (e.g., hysterectomy), if they are not specifically intended to cause infertility (e.g., the uterus is cancerous, so the preservation of life is intended). Natural family planning methods (abstaining from intercourse during certain parts of the menstrual cycle) are allowed, since they take advantage of “a faculty provided by nature.”[citation needed]

The acceptance of artificial methods of birth control is then claimed to result in several negative consequences, among them a “general lowering of moral standards” resulting from sex without consequences, and the danger that men may reduce women “to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of [their] own desires”; finally, abuse of power by public authorities, and a false sense of autonomy.[12]

Appeal to natural law and conclusion

Public authorities should oppose laws which undermine natural law;[13] scientists should further study effective methods of natural birth control; doctors should further familiarize themselves with this teaching, in order to be able to give advice to their patients,[14] priests must spell out clearly and completely the Church’s teaching on marriage.[15] The encyclical acknowledges that “perhaps not everyone will easily accept this particular teaching”, but points out that the Roman Catholic Church cannot “declare lawful what is in fact unlawful”, because she is concerned with “safeguarding the holiness of marriage, in order to guide married life to its full human and Christian perfection.”[16] This is to be the priority for his fellow bishops and priests and lay people. The Pope predicts that future progress in social cultural and economic spheres will make marital and family life more joyful, provided God’s design for the world is faithfully followed.[16] The encyclical closes with an appeal to observe the natural laws of the Most High God. These laws must be wisely and lovingly observed.[17]

 

 
 
 
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The Catholic Church views marriage as not merely a necessary union in order to create more humans, but in fact as a holy covenant between a man and a woman which mirrors the relationship of Christ and His Church.

The Catholic  Church’s views marriage as permanent and only between a man and a woman, and divorce as an abomination.

The importance of the teaching & Scriptural support

Many people do not view marriage as essential or even important; it is viewed as a means to avoid sexual sin and provide for the procreation of the species, but is not actually thought to be a means by which a person can be made holy. Of course, this is not the case – the sacrament of matrimony is a source of grace and is the natural state for mankind. In the early chapters of Genesis (before the Fall) marriage is present as the right and correct state for men and women. Finally, the closing passages of the Bible in the book of Revelation speak of the marriage of Christ and the Church. Marriage is not only a source of emotional strength, but a conduit for grace and a mirror of Christ’s relationship with His Church (Ephesians 5:22-32)

The Church teaches that a man and a woman who are married are “one flesh” following Matthew 19:5-6. This is connected with Genesis 1:27 and 2:21-24 which is the prototype of marriage. These passages should be enough to show that marriage is very important indeed and is not merely an afterthought or anything of the sort.

Marriage as only between one man and one woman

In the modern world there are many notions of sex outside marriage, marriage between people of the same gender, open marriages, sexual relationships between three or more people and various other perversions of God‘s clear commandment.

Open to the transmission of new life

Similarly, a number of people maintain that they are “all for traditional marriage” but engage in the use of contraception. This is in defiance of God’s clear commands – not only is contraception opposed to the moral law but the use of contraception has knock-on effects on the rest of morality.

Marriage as a spiritually good thing

In addition to simply being the way God wants people to have children and the only way to have a sexual relationship which is not a sin, marriage and childbearing is a spiritually good thing. In Hebrews 13:4 it is made clear that marriage is to be honored by everyone – this book of the Bible is concerned with spiritual things, and so it is entirely reasonable to assume that marriage should be considered as a spiritual good. In addition, in I Timothy 2:11-15 it says that woman are saved by bearing children – this does not mean that only mothers can enter Heaven, but it means that faithfully bearing and raising children is a source of grace. In addition, it is obvious that educating children correctly and bringing them up to be a faithful Christians is a good thing. Only a family can do this effectively – further demonstrating that marriage is a good thing.

Divorce and remarriage

A number of people today consider that divorce is acceptable to God. This is clearly not the case. When speaking of marriage and divorce in Mark 10:2-12 Jesus makes it clear that man and wife are put together by Godand that man should not seek to divide that. This shows that not only is marriage ordained by God but that divorce is condemned by Him. This passage is a very clear example of the teaching concerning the permanence of marriage – but it is not the only one.

Folio 31r - David Foresees the Mystic Marriage...

Folio 31r – David Foresees the Mystic Marriage of Christ and the Church (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Malachi 2:14-16 makes it clear that God hates divorce. Matthew 5:32-33, 19:4-9, Mark 10:11-12 and Luke 16:18 make is clear that divorce and remarriage is adultery. Romans 7:2-3 and I Corinthians 7:10-11 also contain clear teaching about divorce. How anyone can argue – based on these verses which equate divorce and remarriage with adultery – that God is somehow “okay” is a mystery to the Catholic Church. Many of those who hold these views, however, have simply not read these verses – merely presenting the verses to them is often enough to prove the Catholic viewpoint.

Annulments

A number of non-Catholics (and even Catholics) are of the opinion that the Catholic Church is hypocritical, condemning divorce but allowing annulments (a similar view exists among some people concerning contraception and NFP). This is based on the faulty understanding that an annulment is a Catholic divorce and breaks the marriage bond.

In the first place, the word annulment is misleading and slightly inaccurate – the correct term is a “decree of nullity”. The word annulment implies that the Church makes a choice and decision to actively annul (i.e. make void) the marriage – this is not what happens. A decree of nullity is a declaration – not that the marriage is now void – but that there never was a marriage in the first place.

The process of obtaining a decree of nullity is designed to test and see if the marriage was correctly celebrated and entered into – if it was not, then no marriage existed in the first place. The tribunal seeks to determine if there are any defects in the sacrament – were the people who entered into the marriage entering into it with full consent and knowledge of what marriage entailed? Did they hold the Catholic view of marriage? Were they psychologically capable of making the vows? Was there any deceit in the marriage, or were there things such as pre-nuptial agreements which pointed towards an acceptance of divorce? Were the two people actually able to marry (or were they already married?)

As can be imagined there are many things which can happen which would make a marriage void – that is, prevent there from being a marriage in the first place. Marriages never “become void” but it can be discovered that what people thought was a marriage was not.

In order to minimize the potential for prospective spouses to enter into a marriage which is not valid (and also to strengthen the marriage bond) the Catholic Church encourages and requires those wanting to get married to go through various courses and retreats in order to better understand what is required for them. Some couples – after learning the great commitment and devotion required for marriage – choose not to get married at that time, or indeed ever, as they feel they are incapable of it. While this can seem sad, this is much, much better than couples who are not suited being joined together in marriage.

Marriage after death

A very popular phrase spoken by lovers is “I will love you forever” – which is hopefully true, as all people want their spouses to get to Heaven, where everyone loves everyone else! But what many people mean is that they will be married forever – something which is not supported by Church teaching, although is believed by the Mormons.

Marriage is a physical joining of two people into “one flesh” and lasts only until death. It is for this reason that both men and women are allowed to marry again after being widowed – the marriage bond is dissolved on death.

This teaching – in addition to being common sense based on the fact that marriage is a physical union of man and woman (through sexual activity) which makes them one flesh, and we will not have bodies in Heaven until the resurrection of the body – follows the Scriptures. In Mark 12:18-27 Jesus is tested by the Sadducees (who denied the physical resurrection of the body). Here Jesus makes it very clear that men and women are not married in Heaven. Not only is Jesus correcting the Sadducees’ false notions about the resurrection of the body, but is also giving us very important teaching concerning the nature of marriage after death – something that most Mormons conveniently ignore.

Source: Catechism of The Catholic Church

 

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