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

Humanae Vitae and Pope John Paul II: 1988  Summary

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.)

This is the last of our blogs for NFP Awareness Week in 2018.  It starts with the last presentation of St. John Paul II in 1988; part of this was in the last blog.

12 November 1988.  Theologians are accustomed to terminology about a hierarchy of truths, for example, that belief in the Blessed Trinity is more of a central core teaching of the Church than, say, its teaching about Purgatory. The theologians at this conference would be well acquainted with the efforts of various dissenters to treat the teaching of Humanae Vitae as peripheral­—way, way down on the hierarchy of truths, having nothing to do with God Himself and not too relevant to the contemporary concern for enhancing the dignity of man. In that light, the following text is of great significance as the Pope teaches that it is not a peripheral teaching but involves a central teaching of Catholic faith.
“Here a central point of Christian doctrine concerning God and man is involved. If one looks closely at what is being questioned by rejecting that teaching, one sees that it is the very idea of the Holiness of God. In predestining us to be holy and immaculate in his sight, he created us “in Christ Jesus for good works . . . that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10). Those moral norms are simply the demand—from which no historical circumstance can dispense—of the Holiness of God which is shared in the concrete, no longer in the abstract, with the individual human person.
Furthermore, such negation renders the Cross of Christ meaningless (cf. 1 Cor 1:17). By becoming incarnate, the Word entered fully into our daily existence which consists of concrete human acts. By dying for our sins, he re-created us in the original holiness which must be expressed in our daily activity in the world.
Moreover, such negation implies, as a logical consequence, that there is no truth about man which is outside the course of historical evolution. To render void the Mystery of God results, as always, in rendering void the mystery of man, and the non-recognition of God’s rights results, as always, in the negation of man’s dignity (n.5).”54

In his manner of speaking and in his repetition, John Paul II has left no room for doubt that the doctrine of marital non-contraception reaffirmed by Casti Connubii, Humanae Vitae, and Familiaris Consortio must be believed and put into practice. He has taught:

― that to hold out for exceptions as if God’s grace were not sufficient is a form of atheism (17 September 1983);

― that denying the doctrine of marital non-contraception is “equivalent to denying the Catholic concept of revelation” (10 April 1986);

― that it is a teaching whose truth is beyond discussion (5 June 1987);

― that it is a “teaching which belongs to the permanent patrimony of the Church’s moral doctrine” and “a truth which cannot be questioned” (14 March 1988);

― that it is a teaching which is intrinsic to our human nature and that calling it into question “is equivalent to refusing God himself the obedience of our intelligence” (12 November 1988);

― and finally that “what is being questioned by rejecting that teaching . . . is the very idea of the holiness of God” (12 November 1988).

During the 1990s, John Paul continued to speak on the subject of birth regulation, including breastfeeding. He also issued two major teaching documents relevant to the birth control issue, Veritatis Splendor in 1993 and Evangelium Vitae in 1995. Between these he issued Letter to Families from Pope John Paul II in 1994. All of these are referenced in other chapters, and you will find significant quotations from these and other documents in Chapter 18.

No Pope in the history of the Church has taught more clearly and consistently, in season and out of season, about marital love and sexuality and the immorality of unnatural methods of birth control than Pope John Paul II. “His mind and will in the matter” are obvious. He has used a formal teaching document, Familiaris Consortio, has repeated the teaching both in Rome and in his world travels, and has used clear and very strong language. He has amply fulfilled all the requirements of Vatican II (Lumen Gentium, 25) for the clear and authoritative teaching by which the believing Catholic must form his or her conscience.

There are two conclusions.
1. The person who is Catholic in any meaningful sense of that word has to recognize that God is keeping alive—even today—the unchanging truths about human love, that God is teaching these truths through the prophetic office of Peter, an office personally established by Christ. The teaching is unchanging because it is rooted in our human nature. The only thing that has changed is this: through modern natural family planning, this teaching is incomparably easier to follow than it was in 1930 or at any previous time. The first conclusion is that Catholics must give religious assent to the teaching against marital contraception and act accordingly.

2. The second conclusion is that non-Catholic Christians as well as Catholics must recognize the truth of the pre-1930 universal teaching against marital contraception. They must recognize that this is no more of a Catholic-Protestant issue than abortion. Just as in many cases they must reject their own Church’s permissive stance towards abortion, so also they must reject a permissive stance towards contraception. Everyone is called to live according to the truth.

My thanks to Ignatius Press for making these teachings, and much more, available in Sex and the Marriage Covenant: A Basis for MoralityI am not aware of any other easily available source of this documentation. –John F. Kippley.





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