Pope Paul VI and The Prophetic Witness of Humanae Vitae
Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, promulgated three years after the close of the Second Vatican Council, rapidly became at the time of its release the most intensely mocked and reviled Church document in centuries, perhaps amassing more derision than any other solemn teaching of the Church in the entire history of Christendom. To this day, many Catholic proponents of Pope Paul’s teaching hesitate to mention Humanae Vitae to those who grew up in the 60s and 70s for fear of the averse reactions which not infrequently follow.
On the other hand, Catholics who broach the subject of Humanae Vitae with those whose birthdate allowed them to be spared the brunt of the 60s sexual revolution and acute-suspicion-of-authority influence, experience a different reaction: Paul VIs encyclical is often not part of their vocabulary because they have never heard of it. So the first step is to invite them to read it.
The situation with these Catholics, especially those who are approximately thirty years of age and younger, is both interesting and encouraging: once they are properly catechized on the theology of the human body and the spiritual language it speaks, along with the consequences of making a lie of one’s body during the marital act through the use of artificial birth control, treating fertility as if it is a disease, objectifying one’s spouse and refusing to be open to life, they very quickly recognize the profound worth of Pope Paul’s teaching. And not only that; as a result they often develop a deep and lasting appreciation for the Church. They begin to see that the Church is our mother who desires to take us into her womb and, by nourishing her children with the words of truth and the sacraments of life, raise us to new and eternal life in Christ.
These Catholics, then, come to recognize that the teaching of the Church is about eternal salvation; it’s about realizing the gift of unending, perfect happiness; it’s about concern for the whole and complete truth of the human person and the relationships which follow; It’s about building a better world; it’s about understanding and actualizing true human freedom — just as is Humanae Vitae.
Once the light about the Church’s true nature penetrates the soul, which is a gift of the Spirit, a refreshing vision of the Bride of Christ is unveiled before one’s eyes with astonishing clarity. No longer is the Church viewed through an hermeneutic of suspicion, but rather she becomes a “holy temple” and “dwelling place of God among men” (LG 6 § 4; Rev. 21:3), who is the “kingdom of Christ now present in mystery” (LG 3). Transformed by the Spirit, who reveals Christ and his Church in full and penetrating light, the eyes of the soul are opened to the true nature of the Church as the “spotless spouse of the spotless Lamb” (LG 6 § 5; Rev. 19:7; 21:2, 9; 22:17). Praise God!
But if Humanae Vitae’s release had occurred a mere fifty years earlier, when the American populace’s views on sexuality, marriage and children were net yet so tainted, things would have been different. The dissenting cry of the 60s and 70s would likely have been replaced with approbation, since both Catholics and Protestants frowned on the use of mechanical devises and dangerous chemicals before, during and after sex in an attempt to frustrate procreation. [More]