Let me continue on Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Humane Vitae. Through paragraphs ten Paul VI outlines the doctrinal principles from which should guide Christian doctrine. As I read it, I identify five subparagraphs that show the flow of his logic. Let me quote all five.
1. (P8.1) Married love particularly reveals its true nature and nobility when we realize that it takes its origin from God, who “is love,” 6 the Father “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.”
2. (P9.2) This love is above all fully human, a compound of sense and spirit. It is not, then, merely a question of natural instinct or emotional drive. It is also, and above all, an act of the free will, whose trust is such that it is meant not only to survive the joys and sorrows of daily life, but also to grow, so that husband and wife become in a way one heart and one soul, and together attain their human fulfillment.
3. (P9.5) Finally, this love is fecund. It is not confined wholly to the loving interchange of husband and wife; it also contrives to go beyond this to bring new life into being. “Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the procreation and education of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute in the highest degree to their parents’ welfare.”
4. (P10.5) Responsible parenthood, as we use the term here, has one further essential aspect of paramount importance. It concerns the objective moral order which was established by God, and of which a right conscience is the true interpreter. In a word, the exercise of responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society.
5. (10.6) From this it follows that they are not free to act as they choose in the service of transmitting life, as if it were wholly up to them to decide what is the right course to follow. On the contrary, they are bound to ensure that what they do corresponds to the will of God the Creator. The very nature of marriage and its use makes His will clear, while the constant teaching of the Church spells it out.
So look at the flow of the logic: Married love is a reflection of and comes from God; the objective of married love is not natural instinct but for husband and wife to be one; this love is fecund; this fecundity is part of the right order established by God; from this follows that one has to act in accordance with that divine order and not against it.
In that last comment I outlined the flow of logic from which Christian doctrine should stem, and that is that humanity needs to act in accordance with divine order. But what is that divine order when it comes to procreation? Paul VI develops that in paragraphs eleven through thirteen. I identify four steps in that logic. Again I’ll quote the steps.
1. (P11) 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.
2. (P.12.1) 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.
3. (P12.2) 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
4. (P13) If they further reflect, they must also recognize that an act of mutual love which impairs the capacity to transmit life which God the Creator, through specific laws, has built into it, frustrates His design which constitutes the norm of marriage, and contradicts the will of the Author of life. Hence to use this divine gift while depriving it, even if only partially, of its meaning and purpose, is equally repugnant to the nature of man and of woman, and is consequently in opposition to the plan of God and His holy will.
Let me summarize that comprehensively: God has so ordered the natural laws; that the natural law in the marital act works toward the unitive and procreative needs; and that going against this natural law goes against the will of the Divine Being. A summarizing quote from Paul VI comes toward the end of paragraph thirteen: “Just as man does not have unlimited dominion over his body in general, so also, and with more particular reason, he has no such dominion over his specifically sexual faculties, for these are concerned by their very nature with the generation of life, of which God is the source.”
Finally Pope Paul VI briefly mentions the consequences of using contraception, and he appeals to responsibility. From Paragraph seventeen:
(P17.1) Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.
Of course there was infidelity before contraception, but the scale of broken marriages and divorce rates has leaped exponentially once contraception was introduced. In the US divorce rates were at 7% of marriages in 1900. Then condoms were introduced in the middle of the 19th century but really perfected in the early 20th century. And so, divorce rates by the 1930s had climbed to 18%. Once the birth control pill was introduced, divorce rates shot up uncontrollably until in 1980, after the ravages of 60s and 70s, the divorce rate had climbed to 52% of marriages. It has since receded a little, but not by much.
And Pope Paul appeals to upholding moral standards so as to not expose the young. Well, that was prescient. There was a time when co-habitation was looked at as immoral. Today it’s the norm. It’s amazing how many friends at work mention their children as living with an unmarried partner. There was a time a parent would be ashamed to mention it, but today it’s spoken in open conversation with hardly a blush. No wonder marriage is in decline and confused. No wonder secularism rules the day over religious values.
And Pope Paul VI fully anticipated the criticism the Catholic Church would receive for her position. Paragraph eighteen is stunning. There are three sub paragraphs that need to be quoted and commented upon. Let me take them one at a time.
(P18.1) It is to be anticipated that perhaps not everyone will easily accept this particular teaching. There is too much clamorous outcry against the voice of the Church, and this is intensified by modern means of communication. 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.” 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.
The Church is not there to evolve with the times. Given the sexual revolution that must have been raging in 1968, it’s clear Paul sees the Church’s destiny to be in opposition to the cultural revolution that has overtaken western civilization. She will be a “sign of contradiction,” a most memorable phrase that reminds me of another great quote by William F. Buckley, Jr, “A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.” The next sub paragraph explains why the Church must stand this way:
(P18.2) 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.
That is a very important point. The Catholic Church did not make these laws. God made these laws. If you believe in a loving God that knows what’s best for His creation, then you accept it. The Church has no flexibility here. And finally, we can understand why God made such a rule.
(P18.3) 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.”
The moral law leads to a “truly human civilization.” By refraining from contraception, a couple will blossom into the full of humanity and society will blossom into the full of civilization, the Edenic ideal that was first created and before human free will rebelled against. God understands the bigger picture. Contraception may satisfy some of the needs of the immediate moment, but it works against the total benefit of mankind. Robbing a bank may make me a millionaire for as long as I’m on the lam, but in the long run it will be disastrous for me. I can’t help recalling the opening lines of Psalm 1.
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in company with scoffers. Rather, the law of the L is his joy; and on his law he meditates day and night.
Read the entire first psalm. It is so appropriate. Pope Paul VI truly understood the law of the Lord. Meditate on it day and night and I believe it will make sense. This was a great read!