"Of Human Life") is an encyclical
written by Pope Paul VI
and promulgated on July 25
. Subtitled "On the Regulation of Birth", it re-affirms the traditional teaching of the Roman Catholic Church
, and other issues pertaining to human life.
Mainly because of its prohibition of all forms of artificial contraception, the encyclical has been controversial. The document is sometimes described as prophetic by those who believe that its four predictions about the effects of contraception on society were accurate. Pope Paul VI did not issue any additional encyclicals in the remaining ten years of his pontificate. In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI called this topic "so controversial, yet so crucial for humanity's future." Humanae Vitae became "a sign of contradiction but also of continuity of the Church's doctrine and tradition... What was true yesterday is true also today.
Affirmation of traditional teaching
In this encyclical Paul VI reaffirmed the Catholic Church's traditional view of marriage and marital relations and a continued condemnation of artificial birth control. There were two Papal committees and numerous independent experts looking into the latest advancement of science and medicine on the question of artificial birth control, . which were noted by the Pope in his encyclical The expressed views of Paul VI reflected the teachings of his predecessors, especially Pius XI, Pius XII and John XXIII all of whom had insisted on the divine obligations of the marital partners in light of their partnership with God the creator.
Paul VI himself, even as commission members issued their personal views over the years, always reaffirmed the teachings of the Church, repeating them more than once in the first years of his Pontificate
To Pope Paul VI as to all his predecessors, marital relations are much more than a union of two people. They constitute a union of the loving couple with a loving God, in which the two persons create a new person materially, while God completes the creation by adding the soul. For this reason, Paul VI teaches in the first sentence of Humanae Vitae, that the transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator. This divine partnership, so Paul VI does not allow for arbitrary human decisions, which may limit divine providence. The Pope does not paint an overly romantic picture of marriage: Marital relations are a source of great joy , but also of difficulties and hardships.
The question of human procreation, exceeds in the view of Paul VI specific disciplines such as biology, psychology, demography or sociology. The reason for this , so Paul VI is that married love takes its origin from God, who "is love," From this basic dignity, he defines his position:
- Love is total—that very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions and not thinking solely of their own convenience. Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for the partner's own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself.
The encyclical opens with an assertion of the competency of the magisterium of the Catholic Church to decide questions of morality. It then goes on to observe that circumstances often dictate that married couples should limit the number of children, and that the sexual act between husband and wife is still worthy even if it can be foreseen not to result in procreation. Nevertheless, it is held that the sexual act must "retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life", and the "direct interruption of the generative process already begun" is unlawful.
Every action specifically intended to prevent procreation is forbidden, except in medically necessary circumstances. Therapeutic means necessary to cure diseases are exempted, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result. But only if infertility is not directly intended This includes both chemical and barrier methods of contraception. All these are held to directly contradict the "moral order which was established by God". Abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, is absolutely forbidden, as is sterilization, even if temporary.
Therapeutic means which induce infertility are allowed (e.g., hysterectomy), if they are not specifically intended to cause infertility (e.g., the uterus is cancerous, so the preservation of life is intended). Natural family planning methods (abstaining from intercourse during certain parts of the menstrual cycle) are allowed, since they take advantage of "a faculty provided by nature."
The acceptance of artificial methods of birth control is then claimed to result in several negative consequences, among them a "general lowering of moral standards" resulting from sex without consequences, and the danger that men may reduce women "to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of [their] own desires"; finally, abuse of power by public authorities, and, a false sense of autonomy.
Appeal to natural law and conclusion
Public authorities should not oppose laws which undermine natural law; scientists should further study effective methods of natural birth control; doctors should further familiarize themselves with this teaching, in order to be able to give advice to their patients, priests must spell out clearly and completely the Church's teaching on marriage The encyclical acknowledges that "perhaps not everyone will easily accept this particular teaching", but points out that the Roman Catholic Church cannot "declare lawful what is in fact unlawful", because she is concerned with "safeguarding the holiness of marriage, in order to guide married life to its full human and Christian perfection This is to be the priority for his fellow bishops and priests and lay people. The Pope predicts that future proegess in social cultural and economic spheres will make marital and family life more joyful, provided God's design for the world is faithfully followed. The encyclical closes with an appeal to observe the natural laws of the Most High God. These laws must be wisely and lovingly observed.
There had been a long-standing general Christian prohibition on contraception and abortion, with such Church Fathers as Clement of Alexandria
and Saint Augustine
condemning the practices. It was not until the 1930 Lambeth Conference
that the Anglican Communion
allowed for contraception in limited circumstances. All other mainline Protestant
denominations have since removed prohibitions against artificial contraception.
In a partial reaction, Pope Pius XI wrote the encyclical Casti connubii (On Christian Marriage) in 1930, reaffirming the Catholic Church's belief in various traditional Christian teachings on marriage and sexuality, including the prohibition of artificial birth control even within marriage. While the emphasis in Casti Connubii is against contraception, it was controversially interpreted to allow the use of natural family planning.
The commission of John XXIII
With the appearance of the first oral contraceptives
in 1960, dissenters in the Church argued for a reconsideration of the Church positions. In 1963 Pope John XXIII
established a commission of six European non-theologians to study questions of birth control and population. After John's death in 1963, Pope Paul VI
added theologians to the commission and over three years expanded it to 72 members from five continents (including 16 theologians, 13 physicians and five women without medical credentials, with an executive committee of 16 bishops, including seven cardinals.) The commission produced a report in 1966, proposing that artificial birth control was not intrinsically evil and that Catholic couples should be allowed to decide for themselves about the methods to be employed.
One commission member, American Jesuit theologian John Ford (with the assistance of American theologian Germain Grisez) drafted a minority report working paper that was signed by Ford and three other theologian priests on the commission, stating that the Church should not and could not change its long-standing teaching. Even though intended for the Pope only, the commission's report and two working papers (the minority report and the majority's rebuttal to it) were leaked to the press in 1967, raising public expectations of liberalization. However, Paul VI explicitly rejected his commission's recommendations in the text of Humanae Vitae, noting the 72 member commission had not been unanimous (4 theologian priests had dissented, and 1 cardinal and 2 bishops had voted that contraception was intrinsically evil--significantly Cardinal Ottaviani, the commission's president and Bishop Colombo, the papal theologian). Humanae Vitae did, however, explicitly allow the modern forms of natural family planning that were then being developed.
The role of Karol Wojtyła
According to George Weigel's biography of John Paul II, Paul VI named Archbishop Karol Wojtyła to the commission. However, the Communist
authorities in Poland
would not permit him to travel to Rome
to physically take part. Wojtyła had earlier defended the church's position from a philosophical standpoint in his 1960 book Love and Responsibility
. Wojtyła's position was strongly considered, and was reflected in the final draft of the encyclical, although much of his language and arguments were not incorporated. Weigel attributes much of the poor reception of the encyclical to the omission of many of Wojtyła's arguments.
Faithfulness to God's Design
13. Men rightly observe that a conjugal act imposed on one's partner without regard to his or her condition or personal and reasonable wishes in the matter, is no true act of love, and therefore offends the moral order in its particular application to the intimate relationship of husband and wife. 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. But to experience the gift of married love while respecting the laws of conception is to acknowledge that one is not the master of the sources of life but rather the minister of the design established by the Creator. 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. "Human life is sacred—all men must recognize that fact," Our predecessor Pope John XXIII recalled. "From its very inception it reveals the creating hand of God."
The Concern of the Church
18. 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.
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."
23. We are fully aware of the difficulties confronting the public authorities in this matter, especially in the developing countries. In fact, We had in mind the justifiable anxieties which weigh upon them when We published Our encyclical letter Populorum Progressio
. But now We join Our voice to that of Our predecessor John XXIII of venerable memory, and We make Our own his words: "No statement of the problem and no solution to it is acceptable which does violence to man's essential dignity; those who propose such solutions base them on an utterly materialistic conception of man himself and his life. The only possible solution to this question is one which envisages the social and economic progress both of individuals and of the whole of human society, and which respects and promotes true human values." No one can, without being grossly unfair, make divine Providence responsible for what clearly seems to be the result of misguided governmental policies, of an insufficient sense of social justice, of a selfish accumulation of material goods, and finally of a culpable failure to undertake those initiatives and responsibilities which would raise the standard of living of peoples and their children. If only all governments which were able would do what some are already doing so nobly, and bestir themselves to renew their efforts and their undertakings! There must be no relaxation in the programs of mutual aid between all the branches of the great human family. Here We believe an almost limitless field lies open for the activities of the great international institutions.
Some Cardinals, bishops, priests in Western Europe and the USA voiced opposition to Humanae Vitae
. Some lay Catholics disagree with the prohibition on artificial birth control and continue to use these methods.
Galileo affair comparison
Cardinal Leo Joseph Suenens
, a moderator of the ecumenical council, questioned, "whether moral theology took sufficient account of scientific progress, which can help determine, what is according to nature. I beg you my brothers led us avoid another Galileo affair, One is enough for the Church. In an interview in Informations Catholiques Internationales
on May 15, 1969, he critiqued the Pope’s decision again as frustrating the collegiality defined by the Council , calling it a non-collegial or even an anti-collegial act.. He was supported by Vatican II
theologians such as Karl Rahner
, Hans Küng
, and several bishops, including Christopher Butler
, who called it one of the most important contributions to contemporary discussion in the Church.
The publication of the encyclical marks the first time in the twentieth century that open dissent about teachings of the church was voiced widely and publicly. The teaching has been criticized by development organizations and others who claim that it limits the methods available to fight world-wide population growth and struggle against AIDS
Within two days of the encyclical's release, a group of dissident theologians, led by Rev. Charles Curran, then of The Catholic University of America, issued a statement claiming that Catholics' individual consciences should prevail in such a personal and private issue.
Canadian, Dutch, and German bishops
Two months later, the controversial "Winnipeg Statement
" issued by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
stated that those who cannot accept the teaching should not be considered shut off
from the Catholic Church, and that individuals can in good conscience use contraception as long as they have first made an honest attempt to accept the difficult directives of the encyclical. Dutch and German bishops also stressed the role of the individual conscience in their catechisms.
The Dutch Catechism of 1966, based on the Dutch bishops' interpretation of the just completed Vatican Council, and the first post-Council comprehensive Catholic catechism, noted the lack of mention of artificial contraception in the Council. "As everyone can ascertain nowadays, there are several methods of regulating births. The Second Vatican Council did not speak of any of these concrete methods… This is a different standpoint than that taken under Pius XI some thirty years which was also maintained by his successor... we can sense here a clear development in the Church, a development, which is also going on outside the Church.
The demands of Humanae Vitae
were difficult and controversial in Poland with the poverty resulting from Soviet rule.
Soviet Union and ecumenical reactions
In the Soviet Union
, Literaturnaja Gazeta
, a publication of Soviet intellectuals, included an editorial and statement by Russian physicians against the encyclical. Ecumenical
reactions were mixed. Lutherans
and the World Council of Churches
were disappointed. Eugene Carson Blake
criticised the concepts of nature and natural law
, which, in his view, still dominated Catholic theology, as outdated. This concern dominated several articles in catholic and non-catholic journals at the time. The ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I
, stated his full agreement with Pope Paul VI
: “He could not have spoken in any other way”
In Latin America
, much support developed for the Pope and his encyclical. As World Bank
President Robert McNamara
declared at the 1968 Annual Meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group
that countries permitting birth control
practices will get preferential access to resources, doctors in La Paz
, called it insulting that money should be exchanged for the conscience of a Catholic
nation. In Colombia
, Cardinal archbishop Anibal Muñoz Duque
declared, if American
conditionality undermines Papal
teachings, we prefer not to receive one cent. The Senate of Bolivia
passed a resolution
, stating that Humanae Vitae can be discussed in its implications on individual consciences, but, it is of greatest significance, because the papal document defends the rights of developing nations to determine their own population policies. The Jesuit
dedicated one edition to the encyclical with supportive contributions.
Response of Pope Paul VI
Pope Paul VI was troubled by the Encyclical's reception in the West. In March 1969, he had a meeting with one of the main critics of Humanae Vitae, Leo Cardinal Joseph Suenens
. Paul heard him out and said merely, "Yes, pray for me; because of my weaknesses, the Church is badly governed,
On June 23, 1978, weeks before his death, in an address to the College of Cardinals, the Paul VI reaffirmed his encyclical Humanae Vitae, "following the confirmations of serious science," and which sought to affirm the principle of respect for the laws of nature and of "a conscious and ethically responsible paternity.
Although polls show that most Catholics in the West still dissent from the Church teaching on contraception, there has nevertheless been a resurgence of support for it. Several Catholic lay writers, including Janet E. Smith
, Kimberly Hahn
, Christopher West
and Mary Shivanandan have all written extensively in support of the teaching, and on the reasons behind it. Also, developments in fertility awareness
since the 1960s have given rise to natural family planning
organizations such as the Couple to Couple League
and the Creighton Model FertilityCare System
, which actively provide formal instruction on the use and reliability of natural methods of birth control.
After he became pope in 1978, John Paul II
continued on the Catholic Theology of the Body
of his predecessors with a series of lectures, entitled the Theology of the Body
, in which he talked about an original unity between man and women
, purity of heart (on the Sermon on the Mount
and reflections on Humane Vitae
, focusing largely on responsible parenthood and marital chastity. Pope John Paul II readdressed some of the same issues in his 1993 encyclical Veritatis splendor
. He reaffirmed much of Humanae Vitae
, and specifically described the practice of artificial contraception as an act not permitted by Catholic teaching in any circumstances. The same encyclical also clarifies the use of conscience in arriving at moral decisions, including in the use of contraception. John Paul quoted Humanae Vitae
as a compassionate encyclical, Christ has come not to judge the world but to save it, and while he was uncompromisingly stern towards sin, he was patient and rich in mercy towards sinners".
In his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est
on love, sex and charity, Pope Benedict XVI
did not mention the teachings of John Paul II on the body, nor the encyclical Humanae Vitae
of Paul VI. His focus was instead the nature of love. On May 12, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI
accepted an invitation to talk participants in the International Congress organized by the Pontifical Lateran University
on the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae
. He put the encyclical in the broader view of love in a global context, a topic he called "so controversial, yet so crucial for humanity's future." Humanae Vitae
became "a sign of contradiction but also of continuity of the Church's doctrine and tradition... What was true yesterday is true also today. The Church continues to reflect "in an ever new and deeper way on the fundamental principles that concern marriage and procreation." The key message of Humanae Vitae
is love. Benedict states, that the fullness of a person is achieved by a unity of soul and body, but neither spirit nor body alone can love, only the two together. If this unity is broken, if only the body is satisfied, love becomes a commodity.
- Wojtyła, Karol (1993). Love and Responsibility. Ignatius Press.
- Smith, Janet (1993). Why Humanae Vitae Was Right: A Reader. Ignatius Press.
- Shivanandan, Mary (1999). Crossing the Threshold of Love: A New Vision of Marriage. Catholic University of America Press.
- Hahn, Kimberly (2002). Life-Giving Love. Charis Books.
- Kippley, John F. (2005). Sex and the Marriage Covenant: A Basis for Morality. Ignatius Press.
- McClory, Robert (1995). Turning point: the inside story of the Papal Birth Control Commission, and how Humanae Vitae changed the life of Patty Crowley and the future of the church. Crossroads Publishing.
- Rubio, Julie Hanlon (2005). "Beyond the LIberal/Conservative Divide on Contraception". Horizons: The Journal of the College Theology Society 32 (2):
- Dominion, Jack; Hugh Montefiore (1989). God, Sex and Love. SCM Press.