Saturday, July 12, 2008

Do you know what Humanae Vitae actually says?

Uncle Di comments at CWN's Off The Record about an article in today's Boston Globe, Debate over 1968 encyclical rages on. He notes sourly that the "debate" is never really engaged because the reason's behind Pope Paul VI's affirmation of the Church's teaching against contraception are never really given:

Funny: I thought this debate was about contraception. The "inseparability" that Pope Paul highlighted in Humanae Vitae was the natural link between the act of marital love and the process of human procreation. Break that link, the Pope warned, and all hell will break loose in human relationships, as reverence for human life declines. But after that one memorable line about the "disposable soda bottle," we've heard nothing more along those lines.

It's not just that fashionable liberals can't come to terms with the argument of Humanae Vitae. It's that they can't even state the terms of the debate accurately. It would be too embarrassing to revive the old-fashioned idea that the use of the human reproductive system might have something to do with human reproduction. So instead of summarizing Pope Paul's thesis, the squeamish journalist substitutes an inane formula: "the inseparability of marriage and love." Globe readers unfamiliar with the argument of Humanae Vitae-- and that will describe all Globe readers, if the editors have their way-- will nod in agreement that love and marriage go together (I feel a song coming on..), and never learn what the Pope said and why he said it.

Too late now. The debate is over. The defense has rested. Or rather I should say the defense is rested-- which is understandable, since the defense never got out of its chair.

I often find dissident Catholics disparaging the "authoritarian and oppressive declarations" of popes without ever engaging the arguments made. This seems to crop up in outcries against the Church's moral teachings on contraception, marriage and homosexuality that make arguments using the natural law. I found the reasons given by the Church quite, well, REASONABLE even before I was considering becoming Catholic. It resonated true that sex was designed for the procreation of a new person. If one has some notion that God does things for a purpose and that it's bad to do things some other way, then clearly a deliberate frusteration of that purpose (like contraception) is to be avoided.

Here's Paul VI (emphasis added):

Observing the Natural Law

11. The sexual activity, in which husband and wife are intimately and chastely united with one another, through which human life is transmitted, is, as the recent Council recalled, "noble and worthy.'' (11) It does not, moreover, cease to be legitimate even when, for reasons independent of their will, it is foreseen to be infertile. For its natural adaptation to the expression and strengthening of the union of husband and wife is not thereby suppressed. The fact is, as experience shows, that new life is not the result of each and every act of sexual intercourse. God has wisely ordered laws of nature and the incidence of fertility in such a way that successive births are already naturally spaced through the inherent operation of these laws. The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life. (12)

Union and Procreation

12. This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.

The reason is that the fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life—and this as a result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman. And if each of these essential qualities, the unitive and the procreative, is preserved, the use of marriage fully retains its sense of true mutual love and its ordination to the supreme responsibility of parenthood to which man is called. We believe that our contemporaries are particularly capable of seeing that this teaching is in harmony with human reason.

If you've never read this brief encyclical, you can find the full text of Humanae Vitae here.


Matt said...

You could take a cue from here and write a book called "What Pope Paul Really Said".

Dan said...

I would never presume to have the expertise of Rev. Wright. :)

However, I think much rubbish could be avoided if people simply read the actual words of BOTH St. Paul the Apostle and Pope Paul VI. And of course the words of Jesus too. "How can you say _______ is sinful? Didn't Jesus love everybody and tell us not to judge?" How few verses need to be read before this becomes silly on the face of it?