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The Wisdom of Humanae Vitae

Fifty years ago, Pope Paul VI published his encyclical letter Humanae Vitae (“Of Human Life”). In it, Paul VI prophetically predicted that contraception would “open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards.”

On July 25, 1968 in the midst of the “sexual revolution” which aggressively promoted premarital sex, pornography, homosexual activity and artificial contraception, Pope Paul VI with the courage of a prophet gave the Catholic Church and the world an entirely different message.

In his encyclical letter Humanae Vitae (“Of Human Life”), soon to be canonized Pope Paul VI prophetically predicted that contraception would “open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards.” 

And with deep insight and beauty Pope Paul said, “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.”     

In faithfully defending the ancient and continuous teaching of the Catholic Church that marital openness to the gift of procreating new human life together with the Creator naturally demands a complete rejection of contraception, Pope Paul and Humanae Vitae suffered immediate, fierce and disrespectful opposition from many of the clergy and laity.     

Assistant Professor of Theological Anthropology, Margaret McCarthy, who teaches at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family at The Catholic University of America, said to me during an interview that “The dissent from Humane Vitae laid bare the profound estrangement of its teaching from modern, liberal culture and its commitments to diminished ideas of freedom, equality, as well as the mastery of nature.”

“Indeed, dissent over the question of birth control is usually associated with dissent from other related counter-cultural church teachings – concerning abortion, divorce, homosexual practice, and now, same-sex marriage.” 

McCarthy added, “Where there is a more vibrant Christian experience, there is a greater trust in the Church’s teaching on these issues. That, in turn, generates a greater Christian experience.” 

Natural Family Planning is the scientifically proven, hormone free, safe and completely natural method approved by the Catholic Church. 

With so many marriages, families and much of society gravely wounded, it would do all of us well to seriously read and prayerfully consider the wisdom and love contained in Humanae Vitae. 


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