DEVET: Spring, Easter and a Golden Anniversary

April 10, 2018

 On July 25, 1968 a bombshell was dropped on the Church. The encyclical Humanae Vitae by Blessed Pope Paul VI was promulgated, reiterating the Church’s condemnation of contraception. 

There ensued a firestorm of protest, unlike anything any of those living then had ever seen. I was a young man married two years, and the chaos and confusion had a definite effect on my attitude toward and practice of, the Catholic faith. But that is a story for another day.

When the dust settled, a quiet but very real schism had developed within the Church. On the one side were those who held to the fullness of the Church’s truth, and on the dissenting side those who had rejected the teachings of the encyclical. And in a number of cases, also rejected certain other truths. They had, in a very real way, left the Church without formally departing. 

In truth, viewing the long sweep of Church history, Humanae Vitae should have been almost a non-event. From its earliest days, the Church has known that contraception is against God’s will, a grave matter for mortal sin. However, the present generation seems to view Blessed Paul VI as having invented this teaching. In fact, he was only reminding modern audiences of an ancient and unchanging truth.

One feature of the dissenting side of the schism was the development of rogue moral theologies by which they hoped to justify contraception. An aspect of these was a cleverly-muddled description of conscience. Their honeyed words and explanations were enticing, and they fooled literally millions. 

St. John Paul II worked to heal the schism (though not calling it by that name) by firmly defending and carefully explaining Humanae Vitae. 

In “Familiaris Consortio” (On the Family), he gives a brief explanation of the truths of its teaching and reveals a brilliant insight: that contraception not only militates against the procreative aspect, but at the same time undermines the unitive power of the couple’s embrace. 

In Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth), he corrects the errors of false theologies, including errors of conscience, and points out that “no one can fail to recognize” that the false teachings would negate the whole idea of a moral law. The message was echoed in numerous other of his works, notably in the famous Evangelium Vitae (Gospel of Life). Pope Benedict XVI continued the message.

St. John Paul bequeathed us a lengthy and detailed explanation of Humanae Vitae in his remarkable Theology of the Body. Here Catholic teachings on sexuality are revealed to not only be true, but also good and beautiful. Made in the divine image, we are created for Truth, Beauty and Goodness. Thus, from deep inside our true nature beckons us to avoid contraception.

Now we are enjoying a budding spring and the Easter Season with its promise of resurrection. And we look ahead to the golden anniversary of Humanae Vitae this July. But storm clouds are gathering over the celebration. 

In the past 5 years, a new attack on this letter has been gradually taking shape. False ideas of conscience, and various toxic ideas about sexual ethics are again rearing their ugly heads. In the face of the storm, will we persevere in the truth so to rise with Christ? Eternity hangs in the balance.

Joe DeVet is a natural family planning consultant for the Office of Family Life Ministry.