By: Nick John
The encyclical Humanae Vitae was directed at the topic of Birth Control. This was a question that the Church had to settle for the wellbeing of its flock. Thus Pope Paul VI writes this letter to not only priests and bishops but also to “the Faithful and all Men of Good Will.” This encyclical shows the beauty of love between spouses, the importance of God’s most precious gift of children, and is very prophetic of what we see today. Therefore, this papal letter has a lot of information for us today…. All it is waiting for is a review.
There are many aspects of the family life that this encyclical covers, one of them being the natural action of procreating children. Humanae Vitae begins with this topic. It states, “The most serious duty of transmitting human life, for which married persons are the free and responsible collaborators of God the Creator, has always been a source of great joys to them, even if sometimes accompanied by not a few difficulties and by distress” (Humanae Vitae 1). This first paragraph has the whole teaching of this encyclical in it. It is said, and rightly so, that we need to let God have control of every part of our lives. Notice that it is said “every part”, this means even the sexual intercourse that spouses have. This stated in the quote above, in the part about “…married persons are the free and responsible collaborators of God the Creator…” What Pope Paul is saying is that since married persons are partners (with God) in God’s plan of procreation, it is logical that we human beings let God be part of the union.
Now along the same topic of procreation is the subject of love.
“This love is first of all fully human, that is to say, of the senses and of the spirit at the same time. It is not, then, a simple transport of instinct and sentiment, but also, and principally, an act of the free will, intended to endure and to grow by means of the joys and sorrows of daily life, in such a way that husband and wife become one only heart and one only soul, and together attain their human perfection” (Humane Vitae 9).
It also explains what true love is: “Whoever truly loves his marriage partner loves not only for what he receives, but for the partner's self, rejoicing that he can enrich his partner with the gift of himself” (Humanae Vitae 9). This love is for life, with death the only thing to cut that bond. Contrary to the modern society, “The example of so many married persons down through the centuries shows, not only that fidelity is according to the nature of marriage, but also that it is a source of profound and lasting happiness” (Humanae Vitae 9). So what Pope Paul is trying to point out is that love does not look for anything in return. Rather, if one truly loves another, he will give without expecting a return. If one loves another he will not exercise his/her sexual right over his/her spouse because “…a conjugal act imposed upon one's partner without regard for his or her condition and lawful desires is not a true act of love…” (Humanae Vitae 13).
The most commonly associated thing with this encyclical is the topic of contraception. Humanae Vitae is very clear on this topic. It says, “…the Church…teaches that each and every marriage act…must remain open to the transmission of life” (Humanae Vitae 11). This really explains, without any confusion, what the truth is on this matter. It reaffirms this later by stating;
Now, some may ask: in the present case, is it not reasonable in many circumstances to have recourse to artificial birth control if, thereby, we secure the harmony and peace of the family, and better conditions for the education of the children already born? To this question it is necessary to reply with clarity: the Church is the first to praise and recommend the intervention of intelligence in a function which so closely associates the rational creature with his Creator; but she affirms that this must be done with respect for the order established by God.
If, then, there are serious motives to space out births, which derive from the physical or psychological conditions of husband and wife, or from external conditions, the Church teaches that it is then licit to take into account the natural rhythms immanent in the generative functions, for the use of marriage in the infecund periods only, and in this way to regulate birth without offending the moral principles which have been recalled earlier. (Humanae Vitae 16)
This is where Natural Family Planning (NFP) comes in. NFP is not a “non-artificial contraception”. Rather, NFP is a way of insuring a way of healthy contraption in a spirit of generosity. What NFP does is, like it is stated in Humane Vitae, a way “…to renounce the use of marriage in the fecund periods when, for just motives, procreation is not desirable, while making use of it during infecund periods to manifest their affection and to safeguard their mutual fidelity. By so doing, they give proof of a truly and integrally honest love” (16). What it is saying is that during the fertile times, during the gestation, the couple abstains from procreating children. Then, during the infertile times, the spouses consummate the marriage bond. Why NFP is different than contraception is because contraception prevents the sperm from reaching the egg (or kills the embryo during its gestation). Whereas, NFP allows the natural process of fertilization, it just that the woman’s body is not, naturally, fertile.
And also that married couples need to be taught “The indispensable way of prayer; prepare them to have recourse often and with faith to the sacraments of the Eucharist and of Penance, without ever allowing themselves to be discouraged by their own weakness” (Humanae Vitae 29) It is through the reception of the sacraments that all couples are able to live the responsibility of being a “Christian witness which is proper to them before the whole world.”
TO BE CONTINUED
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