Natural Family Planning, St. John Paul II and Humanae Vitae

Pope John Paul II and Humanae Vitae, October –Nov 1984

Excerpts from J.F.Kippley, Sex and the Marriage Covenant: A Basis for Morality (Ignatius, 2005, Chapter 7.  References are in the endnotes of Chapter 7.)

7 November 1984: The periodic abstinence of natural family planning should not be thought of as a mechanical application of biological laws. What makes it truly natural is at the deeper levels of personhood wherein the person has developed the virtue of continence and the resulting freedom of self-mastery:  “ The virtue of continence in its mature form gradually reveals the “pure” aspect of the spousal meaning of the body. In this way, continence develops the personal communion of the man and the woman, a communion that cannot be formed and developed in the full truth of its possibilities only on the level of concupiscence” (414-415).

28 November 1984: This was the last talk of the five-year, 129-lecture series. Pope John Paul II noted that “the catechesis which I began over four years ago and which I am concluding today can be summed up under the title: ‘Human love in the divine plan,’ or more precisely, ‘The redemption of the body and the sacramentality of marriage.’ The catechesis can be divided into two parts”(419).

The first part was based on a study of Christ’s words about the indissolubility of marriage, about concupiscence, and about the resurrection of the body (420).  The second part “was dedicated to the analysis of the sacrament based on the Letter to the Ephesians (5:22-23)” which in turn refers to the biblical beginning of marriage in Genesis 2:24 (420).28

The Pope went on to note that the term “the theology of the body” was used extensively in both parts of the catechesis and that the fifteen talks dealing with Humanae Vitae constitute the final part of the overall catechesis dealing with the redemption of the body and the sacramentality of marriage. In short, there can be no authentic catechesis about marriage without an affirmation of the truths expressed in Humanae Vitae (420-422).

My incomplete files do not show any statements of Pope John Paul II dealing directly with the contraception issue during 1985. On January 28, however, the official Vatican newspaper published an article by Archbishop Edouard Gagnon, Pro-President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, commenting upon the series of talks the Holy Father had concluded the previous November 28th. Archbishop Gagnon noted that “In the preface to the Polish translation of Humanae Vitae he [John Paul II when he was bishop of Krakow] wrote: ‘The doctrine concerning the ethics of marriage has been transmitted and defined with precision by the authority of the Magisterium of the Church in Humanae Vitae. Therefore, after the promulgation of this document, it is difficult, as far as Catholics are concerned, to speak about inculpable ignorance or about error in good faith.’”

Archbishop Gagnon continued:  Today, after the Synod on the family, after the Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, and above all after the Pope’s brilliant catecheses, there can no longer be doubts about the authoritative doctrine of the Church and about the unacceptability of dissent.29




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