Blogger Critique of National Catholic Reporter Article: “The end of the affair? ‘Humanae Vitae’ at 50”

 

by Michael G. Lawler and Todd A. Salzman

 “Humanae Vitae at 50: On July 29, 1968, Pope Paul VI published his encyclical on the regulation of birth, introducing what we call here the Humanae Vitae affair. Now approaching its golden jubilee, the encyclical was published at a time of twofold crisis, one theological, the other cultural. Paul’s theological teaching, “each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life” (11), had never been taught before in the Catholic tradition and further fueled the post-Vatican II theological wars in the church.  Humanae Vitae (“Of Human Life”) itself further fueled the post-World War II culture wars over the meaning of sexuality. The scars from both these wars are still evident. They have inserted themselves into the papacy of Pope Francis, oblivious to the fact that he has moved away from the Catholic obsession with sex and birth control toward the beauty of a virtuous, just and loving marriage. His focus is on the complexity of human experience and relationships, which Humanae Vitae failed to adequately consider.”

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Blogger: I take issue with two points in the above: 1) that “each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life” (11), had never been taught before in the Catholic tradition and further fueled the post-Vatican II theological wars in the church”

Blogger: The common teaching of the Church for the last two centuries has spoken of the nature of matrimony as having two principles: the primary, the procreation of children; the second, mutual love and support. The Church has always affirmed that every use of the conjugal act must be open to procreation. In HV, the Church did not state that every act must be procreative, but that the act must be open procreation. Because of the nature of the woman’s cycle, she is not fertile at certain periods of the month. However, the spouses may enter into sexual union, which is not contraceptive, to fulfill the need for mutual affirmation that has been the understanding of the Church of always. To limit union only to those infertile periods rests on having sufficient reason. Such limitation could not be called “contraceptive” since it is not a willed and produced infertility.

   Such a state of affairs coheres with the epistemological development that took place in Vatican II. The Council began with the liturgy, and it became evident that liturgy as the action of Christ, advanced the deepening of faith and the understanding of the Divinity of Christ. The experience of Jesus Christ became the consciousness in which the Council developed. Trinitarian Life and the ensuing Christology, where Christ is pure relation to the Father as the meaning of “Son,” became the prototype of the meaning of man (Anthropology: GS 22). Anthropology was parsed in terms of “man, the only earthly being God had willed for itself, finds himself by the sincere gift of himself (GS #24). Matrimony was no longer understood in terms of nature and first and secondary ends, but rather as mututal self-giving in imitation of the Trinitarian reality of the divine Persons. Instead of nature and ends, matrimony is understood as a radical giving of the self in permanence as the divine Persons, and likewise as generative of each other and children issuing therefrom. Significant is the understanding that the Father is not the Father as an individual, and then engenders the Son, but rather that He the act-relation engendering the Son. He is not the Father and then engenders the Son, but the action of engendering the Son. These are the prototypical terms of understanding the union of the two in matrimony – as one flesh. Two enfleshed persons as one, as God is one. So much are they one flesh as total gifts to each other that unless they impose sterility, they are mutually affirmative of each other as person, and procreative of prole. Having achieved this personalist horizon, the Church has never resorted to the language of primary and secondary ends of nature.

             2)  Second Issue: I suggest that nothing fueled the post World War II crisis over sexuality as the failure to heed the directive of Human Vitae. Why? Because the meaning of man is to be found in Jesus Christ, the God-man, through Whom, by Whom, for Whom, all things were made, including man himself. And Jesus, Son of the living God, is total self-gift to the Father as shown us on the Cross, and now in the Eucharist and the mercy of the Sacrament of Penance.  The list of tragedies from the use of the contraceptive always includes abortion and the failure to understand what it is to be person as irreducibly male and female. If this is not clear, the human person as enfleshed is incapable of being “one” – which always includes the complementarity of the flesh in the sexual organs since Christ is God-man and therefore flesh in His very Person. The key to understanding “male” and “female” is not in the body and sexual organs, but in the person as relation and imaging the divine Persons: Irreducibly different, but One.

    And most difficult and painful to read is the relationality and mercy of the mind and heart of Pope Francis as resulting from moving away from “the Catholic obsession with sex and birth control toward a virtuous, just and loving marriage. The only word that suggests itself to me here is “ideology” as total miscontrual of reality. I would suggest that Francis is focusing on the life of Christ and its Trinitarian grounding as the explanation of sexuality, not the complexity of human experience and relationships.

 

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