Humanae Vitae

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Suffer (allow) the Little Children - by VOGEL VON VOGELSTEIN, Carl Christian


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Humanae Vitae
On Human Life

Encyclical Letter
by Pope Paul VI



Humanae Vitae

by Father Paul A. Duffner, O.P.

On July 25, 1993 there was celebrated the 25th anniversary of the publication of the encyclical Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI, the encyclical giving the Catholic doctrine on the regulation of birth, and condemning the use of contraceptives in that regard. There has perhaps never been a papal document that has met with as much opposition and has caused as much controversy as this encyclical. It was not because the Church has taught something that was not true, but because it has taught something that was not popular,...something that calls for sacrifice....something that our pleasure-seeking world flatly rejects .... something that some Catholics with weak faith have not accepted.


The Basis of the Church's Teaching

Pope John Paul II, speaking to an International Congress on Moral Theology on the twentieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae, explained: "It is not a doctrine invented by man; it is stamped on the very nature of the human person by the Creator's hand, and confirmed by Him in revelation". This encyclical confirms the doctrine expressed by Pope Pius XI in his encyclical on Christian Marriage: "Any use whatever of Matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural purpose to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of Nature".

Pope Paul VI explained the basis of the doctrine of Humanae Vitae as follows:

"That teaching, often set forth by the magisterium, is founded upon the inseparable connection, willed by God and unable to be broken by man on his own initiative, between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning" (12).

Commenting on this teaching of Paul VI, Pope John Paul II declared in his Apostolic Exhortation "Familiaris Consortio":

"When couples, by means of recourse to contraception, separate these two meanings that God the Creator has inscribed in the being of man and woman and in the dynamism of their sexual communion, they act as judges of the divine plan, and they manipulate and degrade human sexuality (and with it themselves and their married partner) by altering its value of total self-giving". (32)

beads_flowing_md_clr.gif (12587 bytes)As to the Scriptural basis of this doctrine, the Lord referred to the 'unitive' meaning of the conjugal act when He said in the beginning: "A man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5). He referred to its 'procreative' meaning when He said to our first parents: "Increase and multiply, fill the earth..." (Genesis 1:28)

Yet, we must not misunderstand the Church's teaching in this respect. As the noted moral theologian Monsignor William Smith points out, "while the Church declares that these two dimensions of the conjugal act are inseparable, that does not mean that the two must be realized in every single instance, but rather that one must never act against them in any single instance. Why? Because this is God's design, God's plan; and we are meant to be cooperators with God's plan, not its judge".

This doctrine, the Monsignor declared, "comes to us from three sacred sources: the Sacred Scriptures revealed by God, Sacred Tradition guided by the Holy Spirit, and the Magisterium which has been endowed with the gift by Jesus Christ to teach in His Name". Of these three sources the second Vatican Council declared in its decree on Revelation:

HolySpirit_small.gif (21176 bytes)"It is clear that Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scriptures, and the teaching authority of the Church (the Magisterium), in accord with God's most wise design, are so linked together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each one in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls". (n.10)

Every situation involving human sexuality that has been rejected by the Church as immoral because contrary to God's design, involves an attempt in one way or another to separate these two fruits of married love (unitive & procreative) that God has put together. To mention a few of them:


microscope_focusing_md_clr.gif (16017 bytes) littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)artificial insemination,
littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)in vitro fertilization (test tube reproduction),
littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)surrogate motherhood,
littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)sperm banks,
littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)cloning,
littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)artificial birth control, etc.


While the following words of Christ were spoken in reference to divorce, they are equally applicable to the inseparable connection between the unitive and procreative meaning of the conjugal act: "What God has joined together, let no man separate". (Matthew 19:6)


Peter, the Rock

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It is important to see the role of the Pope in these difficult times of dissent and crisis of faith on the part of many within the Church. Christ founded His Church on Peter: "Upon this rock I will build My Church" (Matthew 16:18). He entrusted His message to the apostles headed by Peter, and gave them the authority to teach and to bind:

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)"He who hears you, hears Me. He who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me, rejects Him Who sent Me". (Luke 10:16).

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)"What you shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven" (Matthew 16:19)

Christ gave to His Church a twofold source of unity .... a twofold guide. One is an interior guide, the Light of Faith; the other is an exterior guide, the Voice of Peter. For Catholics those two guides must always go together. One without the other will not stand.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)the light of faith (if the voice of Peter is rejected) will go out.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)the voice of Peter (without the light of faith) will be rejected.


Conscience - Not Always a True Guide

Once one rejects this twofold source of guidance that God has given, he is no longer guided by the light of faith, but only by human reason which has been obscured by original sin. Such a one (whether he knows it or not) is given to wishful thinking, for that is one of the weaknesses of our fallen nature. That is, we easily justify doing what we want to do, or not doing what we do not want to do. This is because our judgments are colored or slanted by our desires. And the greater our attachment to some created good, some satisfaction, the more our bodily and rational appetites tend to obscure our reason, and the more we are given to this self-deception.

That is why our conscience, which is simply a practical judgment of the intellect, is not always a reliable guide. This is the root of the problem of many in the Church today who reject this or that teaching of the Church. "I am following my conscience," they say, "which allows me to reject this teaching of the Church (e.g. regarding contraception), and do what common sense tells me." What they are saying amounts to this: "My conscience allows me to reject what the Spirit of Christ dictates, and follow what the spirit of the world suggests."

Pope John Paul II, speaking on this topic in a general audience August 17, 1983, said:

"It is not sufficient to say to man: 'always follow your conscience.' It is necessary to add immediately and always: 'Ask yourself if your conscience is telling you the truth or something false, and seek untiringly to know the truth. If we were not to make this necessary clarification, man would risk to find in his conscience a force which is destructive of his true humanity, rather than that holy place where God reveals to him his true good".

joseph_patron_church.jpg (7826 bytes)Once one rejects the wisdom of Christ handed down by the Church (that wisdom which includes the cross), he will invariably accept the wisdom of the world. There is no middle course, no neutral zone. "He who is not with Me, is against Me" (Matthew 12:30).

Once one rejects the teaching of the Church on any key issue, it is easy to reject other basic teachings of the Church. We read of those who consider themselves Catholic, and yet favor abortion..."Catholics pro-choice" as they like to call themselves. In all probability, a great percentage of these first began their rejection of Church authority by joining the ranks of those who rejected Humanae Vitae. Once one is no longer guided by the light of divine faith, the spirit of the world takes over.

Pope John Paul II, on the twentieth anniversary of the publication of Humanae Vitae, commented:

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)"It cannot be said that the faithful have embarked on a diligent search for truth if they do not take into account what the Magisterium teaches, or if, by putting it on the same level as any other source of knowledge, makes oneself judge; or if in doubt, one follows one's own opinion or that of theologians, preferring it to the sure teaching of the Magisterium.......

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)"Closely connected with the theme of moral conscience, is that of the binding force of the moral norm of HUMANAE VITAE. By teaching that the contraceptive act is intrinsically illicit, Paul VI meant to teach that it does not admit exceptions. No personal or social circumstance could ever, can now, or will ever, render such an act lawful in itself. This is the constant teaching of Tradition and of the Church's Magisterium which cannot be called into question by the Catholic theologian".

(That is, it cannot be done lawfully; and where it happens, you have the blind leading the blind. "If a blind guide leads the blind, both fall into the pit." (Matthew 15:14)


The Garden of Eden Today

It will be helpful to consider briefly how all that we are speaking of ties in with what happened at the very beginning of the human race. You recall the story of Genesis, how Adam and Eve rebelled against God's command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The devil deceived them. "You will not die. God knows that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5). lucifer2.gif (31255 bytes)

Instead of recognizing God's authority and sovereignty, God's dominion over all creation, they rebelled against the restriction He had placed on them; and we know the consequences.

The devil, who knows our human nature so well, uses the same tactics today, the same strategy that deceived our first parents. "Reject that teaching of the Church. Those who issue these decrees are far behind the times. You know the world better than they do. They don't experience the same problems as you. Do whatever you feel is right for you."

So suggests the Evil One. Once Adam and Eve had sinned, the kingdom of Satan was established, and they came under his dominion. Every descendent of Adam (with the sole exception of the Immaculate Mother of God) comes into this world under the dominion of Satan, and remains under his dominion until baptism. And even after baptism, the baptized Christian who falls away from the state of grace comes again under the power of Satan; and the greater the rebellion against the authority that God has established, the more he comes under Satan's power and influence and furthers his cause.  


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Garden of Eden - by MICHELANGELO di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni - from Cappella Sistina, Vatican


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Mary, child Jesus and saints around Tree of Knowledge.

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil

How many today, in the use of their marriage, has the devil enticed to partake of that forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God had allowed our first parents to partake of every kind of fruit in the Garden of Eden with one single exception. What precisely was God withholding from them? What was He not allowing the head of the human race by His command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? A note in the Jerusalem bible explains this as follows:

"It is the power of deciding for himself what is good and what is evil, and of acting accordingly, a claim of complete moral independence by which man refuses to recognize his status as a created being. This first sin was an attack on God's sovereignty, a sin of pride".

Speaking of this verse in Genesis, Pope John Paul II says in his new encyclical on Christian morality Veritatis Splendor, that "it teaches that the power to decide what is good and what is evil does not belong to man, but to God alone..... Man's freedom is not unlimited. It must halt before the 'tree of the knowledge of good and evil,' for it is called to accept the moral law given by God" (n.35).

Yet, how many today, rejecting God's warning handed down by the Church, have partaken of that forbidden fruit! How many have claimed for themselves (as did Adam & Eve) a moral independence, refusing to acknowledge the restrictions placed on them by their Creator. How many, no longer guided by the light of faith but following their own selfish inclinations, have convinced themselves that they know better than the Church. How many are gradually coming more and more under the influence of the Evil One, following his suggestions rather than the voice of Christ speaking through His Church. "He who hears you, hears Me; He who rejects you, rejects Me" (Luke 10:16).


"Pro-Choice" Catholics

The unborn are also members of the Mystical Body of ChristThose who reject the teaching of the Church put forth in Humanae Vitae join the ranks of "Pro-Choice" Catholics. I have a right to choose. "But," some will object, "that term 'pro-choice' refers to abortion". That is precisely the point; it does apply to abortion. And the expression fits perfectly those who use contraceptives, for many forms of contraception are abortifacient; that is, they cause abortions. Janet E. Smith, who has published two books upholding the doctrine of Humanae Vitae, explains this point:

"There is much evidence to show that not all contraceptive pills work by stopping ovulation. With many forms of the Pill a woman may still be ovulating and thus may be conceiving. If she conceives when on the Pill, she will most likely self-abort. Since the contraceptive has made the uterine wall hostile to a fertilized egg, the fertilized ovum, the new young life, does not implant and dies an early death. The IUD, it is believed, nearly always works this way. Thus, IUDs and some forms of the Pill not only contribute to abortion, they in fact cause abortions; they are abortifacients. Is it not clear, then, that contraception is a leading cause of abortions?" ("Why Humanae Vitae was Right" p. 523) 

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Ultra-sound image above shows the uterus outlined in blue and the "triple stripe" uterine lining (landing pad for the embryos) outlined in yellow.


How does the IUD Work?

Although doctors claim they aren't quite sure how the IUD works, it is clear that the IUD does not prevent ovulation, which means that the woman's body will still produce an egg during her monthly cycle.

When the IUD is put in place, it and the chemical it contains alters the fluids in the womb, and the lining of the womb. The presence of the IUD irritates the lining. This is not necessarily painful to the woman, but it can have negative effects on a tiny human being.

After this new life begins at fertilization, the tiny boy or girl must travel to the wall of the womb and implant.

Because the IUD inflames the wall of the uterus, this tissue becomes inhospitable to the new human being. The tiny child cannot attach to the wall of the womb and get nourishment, so he or she dies. This is abortion!

Abortion is an act of direct killing that takes the life of a tiny human being; a life that begins at fertilization (conception).


conception.jpg (8320 bytes)dna.gif (3927 bytes)At conception the father’s sperm fertilizes the mother’s egg cell. From the moment of conception, 46 chromosomes with 30,000 genes combine to determine all of your physical characteristics: sex; facial features; body type and the color of your hair, eyes and skin. Even more amazing, intelligence and personality - the way you think and feel, your talents, tastes, athletic abilities and more - were already in place within your genetic code.
littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)At the moment of conception you receive your own unique DNA code, you were already essentially and uniquely you - a minute body no bigger than a grain of sugar.
littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)Also at the moment of conception, God creates your immortal soul and fuses it to your minute body, where it remains until you die.


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Only God knows how many human lives have been conceived and then snuffed out by those who use contraceptives. It is all so minute and so hidden, but it is the destruction of innocent human life. "Let them remember," warns Pope Pius XI in his encyclical on Christian Marriage, "that God is the Judge and Avenger of innocent blood which cries out from earth to heaven".

Independently, however, of the fact that abortion often follows the use of contraceptives, the deliberate use of artificial means to frustrate what God and nature intends is intrinsically wrong, and can never be justified. Such a one claims the right to negate God's plan, to interfere with the natural process established by the Creator.


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Mother of God

Mother of the Church

Mother of all mankind


Let us pray:

O Mother of God, Mother of the Church, Mother of all mankind,
obtain for your children the grace to recognize the rights of God ...
the plan of God ... a plan that requires sacrifice ...
a plan that involves the carrying of a cross in the footsteps of Your divine Son.
Obtain for them the light of faith to see that plan with the sacrifices it requires,
and the love to embrace it,
that they may experience that interior peace
that all the satisfactions and pleasures of the world can never bring.


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Orthodox Abortion Icon

This icon depicts, on the right, the tribulation of those who have abortions. You can see all the ladies going to the New Herodias. She is depicted as a queen with snakes for hair. (King Herod was the one who killed all the male babies under 2 years old so that baby Jesus would die with them.) You can see the doctor putting his sword through the child, and feeding it to the Beast. And you can see the lamentation of the Angel, and of one woman as she loses her child to abortion.

To the left, we see the Orthodox (or correct) Family: It has the Mother and Father taking care of the kids, the kids playing, and it shows the Mother carrying her Cross because child-rearing was meant to be a struggle. But it was meant to be a struggle that is part of the cross that we pick up daily to follow Christ. It is not something to be rejected but something, if the Lord wills it, that everyone should accept humbly.

Above the Orthodox Family are two people: On the right is Saint Stylianos, who was a big help for children because he helped set up institutions which resemble the day care centers we have today. The other person, on the left, is the Holy Virgin Mary, who accepted the pain and awesome responsibility of being the Mother of Christ. Imagine if she had decided, while she was pregnant, to abort Jesus because she couldn't handle the responsibility. Where would we have been now?


[The Miracle of Life]