Posts Tagged ‘Humanae Vitae’

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.

Pope Paul VI

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;

Papal Tiara4. In many ways, he prepared the way for Pope Francis in his “simplification” of the papacy…most notably by relinquishing the papal tiara, thereby expressing solidarity with the poor.

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)

Paolo VI

Ora pro nobis, Beate Paulus Sixtus!

Images from Wikipedia

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Pope Paul VI“Oh, that pernicious pontiff, Pope Paul VI…that crotchety old man sitting on his comfy papal throne in Rome, with no family or romantic involvement, trying to tell us all how we should live our lives and what we should and shouldn’t do with our own bodies (perish the thought!). 

And to think: He had been present at the Second Vatican Council!  And yet there he was fighting to keep the Church in the dark ages!!!

“Sure, Pope Francis did beatify him last week…but I’m sure he was just trying to be nice.”

Without a doubt, some version of just such a diatribe is in the back of many people’s minds — even Catholics — when they hear the name of Pope Paul VI.  But now, we have a wonderful opportunity to reexamine the man and his legacy.

First of all, it is important to understand that he was a deeply compassionate man.  Far from being removed from the times, he made a point of becoming intimately familiar with the “signs of the times” and with the hopes, hurts, dreams, fears, and desires of the modern world…so much so that he traveled all around the world and became the first pope to visit all six populated continents, making him the most traveled pontiff in history up to that time.

We also need to remember that Blessed Paul VI came to the papacy at a time in which it was excruciatingly difficult to be pope.  The world and the Church were in turmoil.  Longstanding societal traditions and mores were being quickly and violently overturned.  Technological development was accelerating at an increasingly rapid pace, and the world was getting smaller as it took increasing steps toward globalization.  Western society, which had long sustained itself by an emphasis on family life and values, was now quickly shifting toward individual satisfaction (“If it feels good, do it”).

Pope John XXIII

Not to mention the fact that he succeeded the immensely popular and beloved Pope John XXIII, whose shoes it would be impossible to fill.


And yet he lovingly took upon himself the duties of the office and the unique challenges that faced his pontificate, entrusting himself always to the grace of God.  He saw the Barque of Peter (that is, the Catholic Church) going through a tempest, and he knew it was his responsibility to steer it safely through the stormy waters of the modern world.  So seriously did he take this duty that he laid down his life — a deed which can be done in more ways than one — for the People of God and for the whole world.

Whatever this meant for him personally, he knew this was a cross he had to bear.  The sufferings of the Church and of the modern world were to be his own sufferings, in the spirit of Christ.

Out of this came his most famous encyclical — one of the most hated, feared, and maligned documents of recent history: Humanae Vitae (Latin for “Of Human Life”).

We’ll explore this a little — as well as briefly glance at other important (if overlooked) aspects of Pope Paul VI’s legacy — in part two (which will be the final part).

Images from Wikipedia

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