The Rosary Light & Life - Vol 47, No 1, Jan.-Feb. 1994

Theology for the Laity


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.


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:

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

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" (Gen.2:24; Mt.19:5). He referred to its procreative meaning when He said to our first parents: "Increase and multiply, fill the earth..." (Gen. 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:

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: artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization (test tube reproduction), surrogate motherhood, sperm banks, cloning, 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." (Mt.19:6)


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" (Mt. 16:18). He entrusted His message to the apostles headed by Peter, and gave them the authority to teach and to bind:

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.


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 Aug. 17, 1983, said:

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" (Mt. 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:


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" (Gen. 3:5).

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.


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:

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" (Lk.10:16).


Those 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)

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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