NOTE: If you have not read part one, please do so. If you would prefer to just read this post for now, I would ask that you bookmark part one and read it afterwards. The two posts cannot be properly appreciated except when read as a whole, which is why I really wanted to confine the subject matter of both to one post. Alas, it got too long for that.
Let’s not even think about Humane Vitae without first understanding that this document does not exhaust Pope Paul VI’s legacy. There was much to him that we have, by and large, forgotten, and I’ll name just a few things here:
1. He brought the use of the vernacular in the liturgy into the normal practice of the Church;
2.He was the first pope to address the United Nations, pleading for peace during the Vietnam War era;
3. He continued his predecessor’s legacy of fostering positive relationships of dialogue with non-Catholics, non-Christians, and all nations;
On that note, I am convinced that he also paved the way for Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body with Humanae Vitae.
For those who are unfamiliar with the document, Humanae Vitae deals with the topic of artificial contraception — birth control, in the vernacular. Here we have a concrete example of how Paul VI stood up against the tides of modern times whilst knowing it would make him unpopular. Contraception was, at that time, beginning to receive wider acceptance in Western culture. And when Humanae Vitae was released, its teaching was widely dissented from and ignored…even by some bishops.
But I would challenge anyone who has not read the encyclical to sit down sometime and give it a careful, open-minded read. Whatever one’s position on the use of birth control might be, s/he will not be able to read Humanae Vitae without being forced to admit something:
Just about all of the blesséd pontiff’s predictions regarding the effects of contraception have come true — most notably the breakdown of the family and the devaluation of women and their bodies.
He saw at the root of the problem an emerging cultural philosophy that viewed sexuality not as something sacred and beautiful, not as a generous act (in terms of being both a gift of self to another and a procreative activity), but as a vehicle for selfish pleasure.
I will conclude with the blesséd pontiff’s own words in order to reaffirm the point I made about him near the beginning of part one:
It is to be anticipated that perhaps not everyone will easily accept this particular teaching. (…) But it comes as no surprise to the Church that she, no less than her divine Founder, is destined to be a “sign of contradiction.” [Lk 2:34] She does not, because of this, evade the duty imposed on her of proclaiming humbly but firmly the entire moral law, both natural and evangelical.
Since the Church did not make either of these laws, she cannot be their arbiter—only their guardian and interpreter. It could never be right for her to declare lawful what is in fact unlawful, since that, by its very nature, is always opposed to the true good of man.
In preserving intact the whole moral law of marriage, the Church is convinced that she is contributing to the creation of a truly human civilization. She urges man not to betray his personal responsibilities by putting all his faith in technical expedients. In this way she defends the dignity of husband and wife. This course of action shows that the Church, loyal to the example and teaching of the divine Savior, is sincere and unselfish in her regard for men whom she strives to help even now during this earthly pilgrimage “to share God’s life as sons of the living God, the Father of all men.”
(Humanae Vitae, para. 18)
Ora pro nobis, Beate Paulus Sixtus!
Images from Wikipedia