August 4, 2013 Revised Version
“Techne or Virtue? ‘Humanae Vitae’ in Cultural Context after Four & a Half Decades”
Originally written for a Conference Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of “Humanae Vitae” <“Humanae Vitae” Today: Co-Creating with God> at Sacred Heart Major Seminary/Detroit, MI
(September 20, 2008)
Dr. Mark S. Latkovic
Professor of Moral Theology
Sacred Heart Major Seminary/Detroit, MI
“Responsible parenthood…concerns the objective moral order which was established by God, and of which a right conscience is the true interpreter. In a word, the exercise of responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society.” (Pope Paul VI, “Humanae Vitae,” #10)
“[The pill] is a revolutionary development, probably to be ranked among the half dozen or so major innovations in man’s two or more million years of history. In its effects, I believe that the pill ranks in importance with the discovery of fire, the creation and employment of tools, the development of hunting, the invention of agriculture, the development of urbanism, scientific medicine, and the release of and control of nuclear energy.” (Ashley Montagu, 1969)
It is fitting that Pope Paul VI’s “Humanae Vitae” (HV) was promulgated in the summer – July of all months, the season of flares and fireworks – for the long-awaited 1968 encyclical condemning contraception unleashed a boom of its own in the Catholic Church: radical theological dissent, then and now, but already previewed in some measure by the misinterpretations of what the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) taught about marriage and by the unauthorized leak in April of 1967 of the Pontifical Birth Control Commission’s “Majority Report,” which favored a change in the Church’s centuries-old teaching (see HV, #5-6).
I. HV, the 60s, and the Sexual and Scientific/Technological Revolutions
Paul VI’s July 25th letter on “the transmission of human life” (HV, #1) was situated between two eventful American summers: that of 1967, the so-called “Summer of Love,” which ushered in or at least pushed further along the “Sexual Revolution,” and that of 1969, “The Summer of the Lunar Landing,” symbolic of man’s growing technological prowess over the forces of nature, including his own biological nature.
From computers to communications technology to cancer treatment, a “Scientific Revolution” of its own was taking place that would continue full steam into the 1970’s (itself a decade of decline, decadence, and despair on many fronts). The benefits and burdens, as well as the ambiguities, of this scientific and technological “revolution” were, if you recall, cinematically portrayed in stunning fashion in director Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 iconic film, “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
HV’s view of technology, however, would be profoundly different than that which NASA’s Apollo 11’s achievement came to symbolize for many in the 1960’s generation and the generations to come. This is the false idea that if we can send a man to the moon, then we can eradicate poverty, prejudice, pestilence, and population problems through technological ingenuity and bureaucratic planning alone – plus lots of government money, as was the case with President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” programs. This erroneous notion, although still very influential today but to a lesser degree – from the nuclear bomb to biotechnology, who is not fearful of the misuse of technology? – does not shape the viewpoint of HV, though it welcomed a science that is conformed to sound morality.
HV’s understanding of (married) love, moreover, would be radically different than that of the “free-love” and “sexual liberation” espoused by the hippies who congregated during the “Summer of Love” in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco and other major American cities, and whose “soundtrack” was the Beatles’ drug-influenced 1967 pop music masterpiece, the “Sgt. Pepper” album.
According to Pope Paul VI, Christian married love has its “origin” from God, the Author of marriage (see HV, #8). Specifically, it is a love that is “fully human,” involving not only the emotions but also an act of the “free will” to commit to each other’s “human fulfillment.” Spouses become in a way, “one heart and one soul.” It is too a kind of love that is “total” or unconditional in the gift of self, that is, it is a love of one’s partner for his or her “own sake.” This love is also characterized by HV as “faithful and exclusive” of all others, thus ruling out adultery. Finally, it is a love that is “fecund,” in that it seeks to “go beyond” the “loving interchange” of the couple “to bring new life into being” (see HV, #9).
For many, the 1960s – however we “date” and “define” the decade – were filled with what the University of Cambridge’s Jon Agar calls “co-existence and contradiction.” The Cold War between the forces of Communism (namely the Soviet Union) and the forces of Capitalism and Freedom (namely the United States) is a case in point, in many respects, of “co-existence.” The “contradictions” of the decade, on the other hand, were, in fact, often only apparent when viewed merely on the surface level.
Thus, for example, the “Summer of Love” more or less “co-existed” with the riots in our inner cities; both the Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-Vietnam War Peace Movement “walked” side-by-side with the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy in 1968; and the Technology-as-Salvation forces “rubbed elbows” with the nascent anti-technological Environmental Movement.
But violence – especially in the service of social change – was always one common characteristic that often lurked menacingly just below the surface of some of these movements or at times even erupted in full force. The 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, when anti-war protestors clashed with police, the deadly violence of the Altamont rock concert in 1969, and the student demonstrations on college campuses that turned violent in the late 1960’s are but a few notable examples of the so-called “altruistic” violence that was unleashed in the service of an allegedly good cause.
By the time Paul Ehrlich’s neo-Malthusian “The Population Bomb” was published in 1968, Secular Liberalism’s sexual ethic was already betraying its utopian technocratic faith in unending human progress through science and technology – the latter of course being the “twin gods” of secular humanism. Ehrlich’s bestselling pro- population control book was not only widely off the mark as we know now in our day of the “Demographic Suicide,” especially of Europe, it was also, in many ways, symbolic of the outlook of the post-Christian age of affluent Western Culture: the loss of faith in the future.
It turns out, “Love,” to rephrase the Beatles’ 1967 song, is not “all you need”! Societies also require for their flourishing, as the Church had taught for two millennia, one significant fruit of this love: babies. Societies also need strong families that are rooted in life-long heterosexual marriage for these babies to grow up in. Furthermore, these families must be situated in a morally sound culture. Unfortunately, no news flash necessary, we have sorely lacked this kind of culture the last forty-five plus years. The culture has in fact become toxic to all who breathe its foul air.
HV’s pro-natal message arrived, then, in an increasingly anti-humanistic culture already fast abandoning the longstanding hope – a hope in this case at once both natural and uniquely American in its boundless optimism à la the “Declaration of Independence” or President Ronald Reagan’s “shining city upon a hill” – that the generations to come could have it better than the present generation. We can call it, “Progress Exhaustion.”
But with the fears of overpopulation increasing, the “solution” was clear – to Catholics and non-Catholics alike – as Mary Eberstadt writes in the August/September 2008 issue of “First Things”: “Tell the Church to lift the ban on birth control.” “We don’t need any more babies!” the culture shouted. God’s command in Genesis 1:28 – “Be fruitful and multiply” – no longer seemed to be responsible bedroom behavior, much less a divine imperative.
Of course, as God receded further into the background of the “Secular City,” until being declared officially “dead” in a 1966 cover story by “Time” magazine, what else would one expect but a loss of faith and hope? The fear and chaos left in the wake of the blood-splattered walls of the Charles Manson “family’s” Tate-LaBianca “Helter Skelter” murders in August of 1969 were evidence enough of the kinds of horrors that follow “the eclipse of the sense of God.” We get too “the eclipse” of the sense of man and the value of his bodily life (cf. Pope John Paul II, “Evangelium Vitae,” 1995, #21-24).
Now, chillingly reminiscent of the disparaging people-as-“dots” line – uttered by Orson Welles’ Harry Lime character in the classic British film noir, “The Third Man” (1949), but minus the bird’s-eye-view from the Ferris wheel – human beings were looking more like ants than assets in the eyes of many, especially those of the population control zealots.
Further, while HV would not deny the many benefits bestowed by modern technology (Paul VI calls this fact “the most remarkable development” of our time; see HV, #2), it would remind the world in its reply to the “dominion over nature” argument of the “Majority Report,” that man does not have absolute dominion/power over his body and its natural functions – nor should he (see HV, #13, 17; cf. #2). This is especially true with respect to man’s sexual capacity, for it concerns “the generation of life, of which God is the source” (HV, #13; cf. #2). How different Paul VI’s God-centered view is from the materialist man-centered vision of such a notable scientist as James D. Watson, whose book “The Double Helix,” his personal account of the co-discovery (with Francis Crick) of the structure of DNA, was also published in 1968.
Man’s said “dominion over nature” was one of several important, but ultimately unsound “Majority Report” arguments – overpopulation (see HV, #2), “the demands of married love or of responsible parenthood” (see HV, #7; cf. #10, 16), “the lesser evil” (see HV, #14), and “the principle of totality” (see HV, #3, 14, 17) being others – briefly considered and courageously rejected by HV.
As well, when much of Western Culture was equating sex with recreation, no-moral-qualms-about-it – on the Beatles’ 1968 “White Album,” for example, Paul McCartney sings, “Why don’t we do it in the road?” – another, much wiser, Paul begged to differ in HV: Sexual activity belongs only within the covenant of marriage, and like marriage itself, the marital act is ordered to both love and life (see HV, #8-9, 12; cf. Vatican Council II, “Gaudium et Spes,” 1965, #50). Indeed, the pope proclaimed, procreation/parenthood is a sublime role, duty, and mission (munus) of Christian spouses from God, the Creator (see e.g. HV, #1, 12, 25).
HV would prove “prophetic” in far more ways than the specific ones it accurately “predicted” would come to pass if contraception became widely used (see HV, #17), as it did in fact become. For example, it is ironic that the modern Gay Rights Movement dates its beginnings to the Stonewall riots in the summer of 1969, just less than one year after HV. A movement whose core ideology affirms the goodness of intrinsically sterile same-sex relations could not but understand (and emphatically reject) HV’s condemnation of not only heterosexual intercourse purposely made sterile, but all forms of non-marital sex (cf. HV, #13).
The pope’s last encyclical, as it turned out, would give the Church the fundamental “language” it would need years later to address the moral challenges arising from the Gay Rights Movement, such as same-sex “marriage,” as well as those challenges spawned by artificial reproductive techniques, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), which wrongly separate “baby-making” from “love-making” in order to “make” or “manufacture” – rather than procreate – a child.
Another irony: The first “test-tube” baby conceived and brought to birth by IVF, Louise Brown would be born in England ten years to the date of HV’s release. Today, IVF has become a morally acceptable baby-making technique in our culture; just one more way to help couples overcome their infertility, with the question of its moral goodness considered a settled matter.
But rather than serving as a “gateway” to the “Culture of Life,” it turns out that IVF’s manipulation of human life and its power over its beginnings has helped foster our “Brave New World’s” “Culture of Death” (cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Donum Vitae,” 1987; cf. also “Evangelium Vitae,” #63). Both cloning and embryonic stem cell research are further manifestations of how this culture subjects the human person, often the tiniest, to the tyranny of technology – often with deadly results.
II. Openness to Life, Technology, and the Role of Virtue: Contraception vs. NFP
In boldly reaffirming the Church’s constant and centuries-old teaching on contraception (cf., e.g., HV, #6), the pope would famously if controversially proclaim that “each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship [or remain open] to the procreation of human life” (per se aptus vitam generandam, HV, #11; cf. Pope Pius XI, “Casti Connubii,” 1930; Pope Pius XII, “Address to Midwives,” 1951). This moral norm is not exactly compatible with Radical Feminism’s Sexual Liberation Manifesto or television’s “Sex in the City”! But all Christian Churches had taught it up until the Anglican Communion’s Lambeth Conference abandoned it in 1930.
Although this teaching would prohibit the use of contraception as intrinsically evil (see HV, #14) without requiring a procreative intent in each conjugal act (but condemning an anti-procreative one), it did not mean that the Catholic Church was opposed to either sexual pleasure (as was usually thought to be the case) or, as HV says, “the application of human intelligence to an activity in which a rational creature such as man is so closely associated with his Creator.” Rather, “she affirms,” as HV continues, “that this must be done within the limits of the order of reality established by God” (HV, #16).
In a word, man must use the gift of technology in such a way as to exercise responsible Stewardship with it over creation in all areas of his life, including his own sexuality. The moral standard for our use of any technology is whether it serves the true good of the human person or enslaves and degrades him.
Pope John Paul II described this “stewardship” or “dominion” over the visible world as consisting “in the priority of ethics over technology, in the primacy of the person over things, and in the superiority of spirit over matter” (Pope John Paul II, “Redemptor Hominis,” 1979, #16). This is why, we might add, that the intellectual and moral virtue of prudence (concerned as it is with right action, with “doing” rather than “making”) must have priority over “art,” over techniques as the late Catholic French philosopher Yves Simon argued in such mid-20th century classic works as “The Philosophy of Democratic Government” and “The Definition of Moral Virtue.”
Being able to grasp the main difference between morally acceptable uses of Natural Family Planning (NFP) and so-called “artificial” birth control methods (i.e., contraception) comes down to being able to wisely discern these two contrary ways of understanding technological intervention in the “generative process” (cf. HV, #16) – one of which works with God’s plan for generating human life, the other against it. It also entails understanding the following crucial distinction: Couples using contraception and those using NFP may have the same “remote intention” in not wanting to conceive a child, but their “present intention,” that is, what they freely choose to do in this specific action (or their means to the end) radically differ.
In brief, as moral theologian William E. May and others have argued, contraceptive intercourse (as well as direct sterilization, see HV, #14) is always anti-procreative – ultimately anti-life and anti-love. NFP, however, is non-procreative (i.e. it involves couples chastely restricting sexual intercourse to the infertile period when trying to avoid pregnancy for legitimate reasons), but it can also be employed both to help couples achieve pregnancy when they desire to do so and to foster greater marital harmony, mutual love, friendship, and fidelity (cf. HV, #16).
Again, the practitioners of the two “methods” may have the same further ends, but their immediate choices and actions actually differ. Contraception is always a choice/act to impede the procreative good of a freely chosen act of sexual union; NFP is a choice/act to abstain from sexual union during the fertile period. In doing so, the former method spurns the good of human life-in-its-transmission while the latter method respects it.
Pope Paul VI well articulated the moral difference in HV, teaching that married couples who take advantage of “the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system” (i.e. what we today call NFP), “rightly use a faculty provided them by nature”; when couples engage in contraceptive practices, however (e.g. using the Pill, condoms, IUDs, the withdrawal method), “they obstruct the natural development of the generative process” (HV, #16).
“It cannot be denied,” the pope continued, “that in each case the married couple, for acceptable reasons, are both perfectly clear in their intention to avoid children and wish to make sure that none will result. But it is equally true that it is exclusively in the former case that husband and wife are ready to abstain from intercourse during the fertile period as often as for reasonable motives the birth of another child is not desirable. And when the infertile period recurs, they use their married intimacy to express their mutual love and safeguard their fidelity toward one another. In doing this they certainly give proof of a true and authentic love” (HV, #16).
Let it also be noted that NFP is truly nature-friendly – friendly both to man’s personal biological nature and to the non-personal nature outside of him. Indeed it works with nature, not against it, similarly regarding one’s fertility – one’s power to give life – as it is regarded in Sacred Scripture: as a blessing rather than a curse. One would think that the “Secular Mind,” with its “Green” values, would welcome such a natural and highly reliable means of family planning, “birth control” if you will.
The hermeneutical “key” to understanding the personalist moral vision of HV, then, is this “balanced” approach to technology, rooted both in its “wholistic” anthropology or “integral vision” of man (see HV, #7; see also #17) and in its call to a virtue-based approach to solving human problems, for example, in its recognition of the essential importance of self-discipline (see HV, #21; see also #10) and the virtue of chastity (see HV, #22).
Thus, the encyclical “urges man not to betray his personal responsibilities by putting all his faith in technical expedients. In this way [the Church] defends the dignity of husband and wife” (HV, #18). The Pill is one such expedient harmful to man’s personal dignity as an embodied soul who is created in God’s “image” and “likeness,” as either “male” or “female” (cf. Gn 1:26-27).
At the same time, the pontiff can appeal, without a trace of hypocrisy, to governments (see HV, #23), to scientists (see HV, #24), and to doctors and nurses (see HV, #27) to develop and rely on family planning methods that are totally sound – both morally and medically. Thus, Paul VI had great hope for man and his intellect, but he placed his faith in God, who alone provides the grace Christian spouses need to live the demands of a good and holy conjugal life (see HV, #20; cf. #8).
III. The Inseparability Principle, the Nuptial/Spousal Meaning of the Body, and Responsible Parenthood
When Pope Paul VI spoke beautifully of the two “meanings” of the marital act – the “unitive” and the “procreative” (see HV, #12) – he was teaching us, even before Pope John Paul II’s remarkable “Theology of the Body” later developed the idea, that the human body speaks a special nuptial or spousal language designed by God. This is the language of conjugal love – that is, the language of the “mutual gift” of self, of the “union of two persons in which they perfect one another,” while “cooperating with God” in the procreation and education of new lives (see HV, #8; see also #9, 10-11; cf. #13).
HV’s doctrine on the immorality of contraception is based on the insight – derived from “the natural law and illuminated and enriched by divine Revelation” (see HV, #4) – that these “meanings” (or “significances”) are “inseparably connected” by God (see HV, #12). Man is not to intentionally separate them, for to do so is to either violate one or the other value – in truth, really both values – for both are “inherent to the marriage act” (see HV, #12).
In other words, the pope is saying that the marriage act can be described anthropologically as that intimate bodily act of the spouses essentially involving by its nature a “person-uniting” aspect and a “life-giving” aspect. You harm one aspect, you harm the other; for both are interdependent realities, as John Finnis has argued, reflecting the covenantal nature of marriage.
But to directly act against either “meaning” or “good” is to violate not only that particular “meaning,” but also, Paul VI tells us, the “design” or “plan” of God, which is the very “norm” of marriage (see HV, #13), as the Magisterium has always taught.
Yet, at the same time, when our contemporary culture’s understanding of the human person is erroneously “dualistic,” separating “personal” life (the self) from “biological” life (the body); when its idea of “responsible parenthood” means “wear a condom” in order to have “safe sex”; and when so many of its followers say, “Why worry about a ‘settled’ issue such as contraception when so many other issues seem more pressing, such as: Should I buy the latest iPhone?” is it any wonder that HV’s understanding of sex and “responsible parenthood” (see HV, #10) is often ridiculed and scoffed at? Is it really surprising that the Church is viewed as the “bad guy” and Planned Parenthood as the “good guy”? “Why can’t we, after all, substitute techne for virtue?” in this area of human existence and others, the culture asks over and over again.
This last question, more so than the media’s often-portrayed conflict between the Magisterium’s teaching authority and personal conscience, goes to the heart of a proper understanding of HV. It also reveals, as the Catholic social theologian George Weigel has recently argued, where the Church is most “boldly countercultural”: to wit, “in teaching that the morally appropriate means to regulate fertility is through biology rather than technology.” That is, through self-control rather than condoms.
In an unserious culture, however, where comedians and rock stars are looked to as sources of wisdom, and Utilitarianism is considered an adequate ethical theory, entertainment and expediency often trumps virtue and morality! Therefore, like her founder Jesus Christ, the Catholic Church will continue to be a “sign of contradiction” (see HV, #18; cf. Lk 2:24). This is especially true in a “Celebrity Culture” of fun and fantasy, particularly concerning the matter of contraception. Because the Church, unlike any other institution, looks at human procreation under its natural as well as its supernatural aspects (see HV, #7).
IV. The Attraction of HV and the Grave Consequences of Rejecting Its Truth
Still, so many have looked to and continue to look to the Catholic Church as a reliable source of religious and moral truth on account of the truth of HV. It is a truth at the heart of both the “Culture of Life” and the “New Evangelization.” To name but one individual attracted to the Church because of HV, the late British writer Malcolm Muggeridge spoke movingly about the encyclical already before his conversion to the Faith. It was, he says in his “Confessions of a 20th Century Pilgrim” (1988), the Catholic Church’s firm stand against contraception and abortion which finally convinced him to convert.
If he, Muggeridge, were to find himself pope, he wrote in “National Review” ten years after HV, his “first venture…would be to reissue Humanae Vitae…reinforcing its essential point that any form of artificial contraception is inimical to the Christian life…The divorcement of eroticism from its purpose, which is procreation, and its condition, which is lasting love, consequent upon the practice of artificial contraception, was proving increasingly disastrous to marriage and family.”
The explosion of pornography and pre-marital sex, not to mention venereal diseases such as HIV/AIDS and HPV, are but a few of the social pathologies that have followed these past forty-five years now that we so casually uncouple sex from marriage and procreation from lasting love (cf. HV, #22). But then again, Paul VI warned us of such bitter fruits, even if he realized as a good pastor how very difficult the practice of chastity and the observance of the moral norms of marriage would be for many (see, e.g., HV, #20; cf. #1-3).
You see, the norm of the inseparability of the “unitive” and the “procreative” ends acts as a safeguard of conjugal love and the family; without it, all forms of unnatural and perverted sex seem morally acceptable, as the late eminent British Catholic philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe cogently argued forty years ago.
V. Creating a Truly Sane and Human Civilization
Today’s culture, at least many of the “Baby Boomers” among us, often looks back nostalgically, if not fondly at the 1960s culture of sexual freedom and its admirable idealism in thinking that such absurdly kooky ideas as “Flower Power” and LSD could change the world for the better. But HV proposed quite a different way to create what it called an authentically “human civilization.” If only more of us celebrated its lasting legacy rather than the “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” message of Woodstock Festival (1969) – the epitome and in some ways the culmination of the 1960’s “Hippie Generation” or “Youth Culture” – I believe our nation would be in much better shape today.
“In preserving intact the whole moral law of marriage,” Paul VI memorably announced, “the Church is convinced that she is contributing to the creation of a truly human civilization” (HV, #18). Showing respect for the laws of conception in the context of married love, couples humbly acknowledge that they are “not the master of the sources of life but rather the ministers of the design established by the Creator” (HV, #13).
Imagine that! Spouses are the priests of God’s intelligent love and his creative power to give life – co-creators of new human life with the Lord God himself!
In a world that seems to have gone crazy – witness the birth of twins via IVF to a 70-something Indian woman in July 2008 and the recent birth of two sets of twins to a lesbian couple – HV is, therefore, ultimately a message of “Sexual Sanity”: the sanity of life over death, of love over lust, and hope over despair. It is, as Pope Benedict XVI said in a May 2008 Address to mark HV’s 40th anniversary, “a gesture of courage.”
Having celebrated the Forty-fifth Anniversary of HV, with the benefit of four-and-a half-decades worth of “hard knocks” experience and social science support behind us, we see the terrible things that happen to human persons and society, like falling dominoes – increases in family breakdown, out-of-wedlock births, and abortion among them – when a culture rejects (or forgets!) the moral norm that couples are not to do anything before, during, or subsequent to sexual intercourse that would impede the transmission of new human life – whether as an end or as a means (see HV, #14).
But it all makes perfect sense really. For contraception, more than preventing “unwanted” children from coming-to-be, leads us to view children as unwanted. This selfish attitude is part and parcel of what is meant by the “contraceptive mentality” (cf. “Evangelium Vitae,” #13).
In fact, it can be argued, contraception is a “gateway” to abortion and abortion, in turn, is a “gateway” to child abuse. Easy access to contraception and abortion did not take away this and other problems, as it was claimed would happen over four decades ago – it made them worse. In retrospect, it is clear how compassionate HV really was to warn the human family about them. If only we had listened to its then 70-year-old author!
Spawned by such modern cultural landmarks as “Playboy,” the Pill, and bad U.S. Supreme Court decisions (e.g. “Griswald vs. Connecticut,” 1965), the “Sexual Revolution” gave us sex as a care-free pleasure to be “slurped,” not savored and sanctified in the bond of marriage. And our sex-obsessed culture has “slurped” to the point of satiation – even to the point of believing it needs abortion as a form of “back-up” birth control. But thankfully, there is some evidence that the tide seems to be turning away from the path of “Sexual Suicide” (George Gilder), especially among young people. Many couples, for example, are now discovering the joys of NFP.
VI. HV, Human Happiness, and the Law of God
So let us seize this moment right now and renew our commitment to live the joyful, yes joyful, message of HV. For its message is not only a “ban” on the birth control Pill, but also a “blueprint” for a happy life. As Paul VI wrote, echoing the Psalmist, “man cannot attain that true happiness [and the Holy Father speaks often of it in HV] for which he yearns with all the strength of his spirit, unless he keeps the laws which the Most High God has engraved in his very nature. These laws must be lovingly observed” (HV, #31; see also #30). Note that Paul says “lovingly,” not slavishly observed!
Hence, let there be no doubt, HV’s teaching on “the correct regulation of birth” (cf. HV, #5, 24) is neither a mere man-made law subject to change nor one merely on the “periphery” of the Catholic Faith so to speak, but “a promulgation of the law of God himself” (see HV, #20). Thus, observance of this law is fundamental to living the Christian moral life.
Contrary to moral theologian Fr. Charles Curran and other dissenters, in the view of this moral theologian and married father of four, Paul VI’s references to “biological laws” (see HV, #10), “laws of nature” (see HV, #11; see also #12-13), and “the laws” of God engraved in man’s nature (see HV, #30), do not constitute so-called natural law “biologism” or “physicalism,” but rather, coupled with “the law of God” mentioned in HV, #20, a God-given “Blessedness.”
And those who practice HV’s teaching are the encyclical’s true living witnesses, as well as its beneficiaries. They are helping to build, one marriage at a time, the stable “human civilization” that Pope Paul VI so longed for us to have forty-five summers ago when he gave us the gift of HV.