Thursday, July 24, 2008

Humanae Vitae- Forty Years Later

I had previously mentioned that Mysterium Fidei was like setting off a stick of theological dynamite. If I was to stick with the principle of that analogy, I can only compare Humanae Vitae to a global thermonuclear warfare. It was that bad.

For those who don't know, the topic of contraception was already a big deal during Vatican II. John XXIII had actually convened a commission of theologians, scientists, and other experts to study the matter. Paul VI would later expand this commission but also take conciliar discussion of the issue off the table and reserve a decision on the matter to the authority of the Holy See. The commission came back with the recommendation that the Church's stance on birth control be modified. This got leaked to the press, and folks everywhere were ecstatic over the idea of (a) sexual license without regard for child-bearing and (b) the Catholic Church caving to secuar pressures.

The problem with all this was that they forgot that the gates of hell shall never triumph over the indefectible Faith preserved by the Successor of Peter. So it sucked to be a member of this mob when Paul VI had the temerity to reiterate the constant and infallible Christian teaching that contraception is immoral. The liberal rage that followed the promulgation of Humanae Vitae can only be described as Satanic in its intensity. The entire world was swept with a chorus of voices shrieking "Non serviam!" with all the zeal that their embrace of heresy could muster. Entire groups of bishops publicly defied the Holy Father's decision. Famous theologians like Karl Rahner, Bernard Haering, and Charles Curran accused Paul VI of betraying the "collegiality" promoted at Vatican II. Even cardinals weren't afraid of blasting the Holy See's upholding of orthodoxy. Speaking of orthodoxy, it's ironic that the Patriarch of Constantinople fully supported the Pope here and that now the Easterners are starting to fall prey to the seduction of illict birth control.

Pope Paul was shell-shocked by this hostile response. His dreams of being well-liked ended that summer of 68. In the aftermath of the encyclical, he would take almost no steps at all to enforce it. Dissent was basically legitimized by his inaction, and it continues to this day as self-proclaimed Catholics will invoke the word "conscience" in an attempt to justify their sins. Shame.

If you are looking for a good resource on this topic, I recommend Notre Dame professor Ralph McInerny's book What Went Wrong With Vatican II? Don't let the title fool you. It's all about the Humanae Vitae blow-up. As I post on this over the next few days, I am going to follow Prof. McInerny's example by reminding everyone of a little ditty from Vatican II found in Lumen Gentium # 25:

This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.

Let's ignore for a moment the fact that Humanae Vitae is clearly infallible by virtue of its principles being taught with absolute consistency for the last 2000 years. Let's also ignore that there are some very good arguments (that we'll examine later) for it being infallible as an ex cathedra statement. Just by examining the statement above from (gasp!) Vatican II, on what legitimate basis do the heretics of yesteryear and modern times justify their dissent?

The answer, of course, is that there is no legitimate basis.

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