Natural Family Planning and Humanae Vitae #14

The importance of Humanae Vitae section 14 cannot be overstated.  First, here’s the text from the Vatican website:

“14. Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. (14) Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary. (15)

“Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means. (16)

“Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one, or that such intercourse would merge with procreative acts of past and future to form a single entity, and so be qualified by exactly the same moral goodness as these. Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good,” it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (18)—in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general. Consequently, it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong.”

The Latin for those last two words is intrinsece inhonestum,

Here’s the context:  The pro-contraceptive party had presented the Pope with a big-picture morality that is referred to in the first boldfaced phrase above.  They argued that the contraceptive acts took their morality from the non-contraceptive acts in the marriage.  It is still difficult for me to understand how Father Jozef Fuchs, S.J. and the others could put forth such an argument.  It seems to me that anyone with common sense could see that on that principle almost anything could be “justified” by the big-picture.  The traveling spouse tempted to adultery could “justify” it by saying the non-marital act would take its morality from the spouses’ mutual fidelity when neither one of them was traveling.  Why wasn’t this pointed out by the dissenters?  Surely they were not stupid.  Their subsequent writings make it clear that they DID know what they were doing.  Some are now dead; I hope they repented.

There is absolutely no way in which St. Pope Paul VI could have accepted their argument.  So in the second boldfaced text, he affirmed the basic moral principle that it is never right to do wrong even for a good purpose.  The end does not justify the means.  Thus he reaffirmed what he had previously taught in sections 11, 12, and 13.

In the third boldfaced text, he clearly teaches that each and every contraceptive act is intrinsically dishonest, as the earlier official text translated intrinsece inhonestum. The word “dishonest” implies that there must be an intrinsically honest marriage act, and there is.  That occurs when the spouses engage in the marriage act that is at least implicitly a renewal of their marriage covenant, an act that implicitly reaffirms the faith and love and for-better-and-for-worse commitment they pledged when they married—including the sometimes imagined “worse” of possible pregnancy.  “Implicitly” means that the spouses do not have to be thinking explicitly in these terms, good as that might be.  What is required is that they not be contradicting the divinely built-in meaning of the marriage act.

Tomorrow: a close look at Humanae Vitae 17 and sodomy

John F. Kippley
Sex and the Marriage Covenant





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