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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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