Nearly ten years ago now I read a summary of what Humanae Vitae teaches on the Internet and was blown away. I had known that the Church was ‘against condoms’ and, like many other Catholics, had blithely ignored this teaching in ignorance as to what it was. Later, after many years in the wilderness, I came home to the faith and was thirsty for knowledge of her. Reading that summary gave me confirmation that this truly isn’t the Church of Jesus; the fruit of the contraceptive culture warned of in the encyclical, so counterintuitive and mocked for decades, were so evident in our society that I was convinced of its prophetic nature.
There have been times when I have mourned and, in grief, doubted my faith. Oddly, one of the things that kept my mind fixed on the Church’s saving grace and therefore Christ’s presence was this encyclical. If you have never read it or heard of what it teaches I’d encourage you to read ahead prayerfully. Hopefully, with God’s grace, I can encourage you to look anew at this shocking document.
The Church is constantly mocked for its teaching but, believe it or not, there once was a time when all Christian denominations believed as the Church does; that artificial contraception was not in God’s plan for us. However Neo-Malthusian advocates of population limitation promoted contraception as a way of ensuring the ability of the world to provide for its inhabitants.
Artificial contraception was also promoted as a solution to England’s poverty problems; the birth of fewer children was advocated for enabling the poor to provide for the children they had. As a result the Anglican Church’s 1930 Lambeth Conference passed a motion on a 193 to 67 vote stating that “in those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, …other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of Christian principles.” Other churches followed suit.
These argument later turned to the fashionable cause of ‘women’s liberation’ by the 1960s; which sought to ‘liberate’ women from the drudgery of childbirth.
Firstly let me start by putting an old rumour to bed. The commission didn’t just include ‘old, celibate men’. It was set up by Pope John XXIII, in march 1963 and included married couples as well as many experts in the various fields pertinent to be able to examine views and opinions concerning married life, and especially on the correct regulation of births. They sought to determine whether artificial contraception was a valid way of answering these questions facing society.
I want to make clear too that we are talking about artificial contraception as distinct from controlling one’s fertility through the observation of fertile periods and absence at selected times. The magisterium worded that deliberation as in the context that is described as ‘man’s stupendous progress in the domination and rational organization of the forces of nature to the point that he is endeavoring to extend this control over every aspect of his own life—over his body, over his mind and emotions, over his social life, and even over the laws that regulate the transmission of life.’
Firstly the Church acknowledged the question of large families and the need to sometimes limit children produced. It worded this as Responsible Parenthood. However, for the Magisterium this must be for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, that it was appropriate to decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time.
Always in making these decisions 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.
For these reasons the Church taught against the use of artificial contraception, sterilisation and abortificants when intended to end life or prevent procreation. It should be noted however that if something were used for therapeutic means to cure bodily diseases, even if the outcome was to limit procreation, this would be acceptable.
So What Did The Church Warn Were The Consequences of Artificial Methods?
The first consequence was the creation of the opportunity for marital infidelity.
When I was young I had a friend who wanted to get a suntan quickly. She would always burn, the peel, the tan never emerging without this painful process. When I asked her why she didn’t use sunscreen she would reply with a tone of indignation; “I do, I use factor 10!” This was never sufficient to protect her, as her constant skin damage demonstrated, yet she repeated the same cycle. The fact that she wore sun screen, however ineffective for he job, would make her prone to take risks she shouldn’t have.
As we know humans are weak and, when exposed to temptation, need incentives to be moral. Contraception can lead a potential adulterer to assume that ‘no-one will find out’, that ‘it won’t harm anyone’. They love their wife/husband and this is ‘only a fling, with no real meaning’. As such they are able to remove the probable consequences from their mind and create an illusion of safety.
When one relies on the natural fertile cycle, although it is highly effective, there is an inherent awareness that it is not 100% effective so the consequences of an action are held in higher expectation.
Contraception would lower moral standards and also encourage men to treat women as a sex object.
The Church terms this as a man, growing accustomed to using contraception, will treat women as a means to gain sexual satisfaction, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.
I would argue that the ‘rape culture’ that has been decried is the direct consequence of our obscuring what the sex act is for i.e. for intuitive and procreative purposes. The encyclical often looks to mens libido as being subverted, but our society has shown that it is not just men that have had their sexual appetite subverted.
Women, convinced they should have sex ‘like men’ become drunk and engage in sexual acts. However, I would argue, that their attitude to sex is not the same as men’s and the denial of this has led to a lot of pain for both sexes.
Added to this that the norm now is for people to engage in sexual relations not just before marriage, but for all relationships, whether serious or not. As a result people have sex with others they would not wish to spend the ‘rest of their life with’. Again, being perceived as inherently effective but not in reality, this has increased people’s use of each others bodies, as well as to the abuse of bodies formed as a result.
I have known women who have had abortions as, although in serious relationships, they didn’t see the man who they reduced a child with as ‘father’ or ‘husband’ material – but they were happy to have sex with him.
What can start as power for the individual can become power for the state.
The encyclical also pointed out that this power to determine the production of children could well pass into the hands of those authorities who could resort to the same measures as are accepted by wider society to solve wider social problems? They warned that, should it be deemed necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone.
Since then it has become legal for public authorities to provide contraception and abortificants to children without their parents consent.
In the Jay Report outlining how the abuses in Rotherham occurred the use of contraceptives were cited as a means to voice the outcome associated with sex and therefore avoid the political difficulties facing those in authority.
Midwives are being forced to take part in abortion services and nuns to pay for the supply of contraception and abortificants.
As the Church is worldwide it is worth noting the one child policy in China were abortions are obligatory.
Dominion over the body
An interesting part of the document is how it frames what contraception is;
“But the most remarkable development of all is to be seen in man’s stupendous progress in the domination and rational organization of the forces of nature to the point that he is endeavoring to extend this control over every aspect of his own life—over his body, over his mind and emotions, over his social life, and even over the laws that regulate the transmission of life.”
In this post I spoke about how the first battle against marriage was the separation of sex and procreation in people’s minds. However when seen in the context of the current society isn’t it interesting that the Magisterium saw contraception as a way to control the body as well as a way to have control over society?
Is this not evident in the language used for the ‘right’ to abortion; my body, my choice? In the equating of homosexual and heterosexual sex? And now even to the point were the biological differences between the sexes are denied in transgender ideology?