From some fissure the smoke of Satan has entered into the temple of God…We believe … that something preternatural has come into the world specifically to disturb, to suffocate the fruits of the [Second Vatican] Ecumenical Council, and to prevent the Church from breaking out in a hymn of joy for having recovered in fullness the awareness of herself.
Pope Saint Paul VI, Homily on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, June 29, 1972
July 25, 1968.
It was perhaps the darkest day in the history of the post-Vatican II, modern Church. On that day, the reigning pontiff, Blessed Pope Paul VI, in response to the call of many in the church to revisit the Church’s longstanding teaching against the immorality of contracepted sexual acts (artificial birth control) within marriage promulgated the encyclical, Humanae Vitae (On Human Life).
It had been known (and still is) that many (perhaps even most) Catholics do not follow this teaching of the Church anyway, so many in the Church thought it was time to revise this long-standing teaching.
Now, on the 50th Anniversary of this monumental encyclical, the onslaught continues, with many even at the highest levels of the Church still trying to manipulate her authentic and unchanging teachings.
To make a long and very sad story short, the Pope Paul commissioned of a committee of “experts” to study the question of whether contraception could ever be morally acceptable with the marriage bond.
The recommendation of this committee was that the Catholic Church follow the way of most mainline Protestant denominations, spearheaded particularly by the Anglican communion, and allow contraception within marriage under certain conditions. Obviously once word of this got out in the media, a firestorm ensued. The pope received the results and planned to issue an official teaching on the matter. It was widely expected that he would simply make official what the committee had decided.
So, His Holiness took the matter to prayer and discussed it with his closest advisors and made a decision. The result was an explosive papal encyclical which upheld the Church’s traditional teaching on the intrinsic immorality of contracepted sexual relations. Although it was not well received then, many call Blessed Paul VI a prophet today.
Particularly in Section 17, he made some pretty startling predictions about what would happen if the Church were to permit contraception. Here are some of the most poignant excerpts from it. The italics are all my own emphases.
"Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection."
Note here how the pope directly links the use of contraception to infidelity and a decline of morals, in general. Why? In separating the procreative part of the sexual union from the unitive part, it opens wide the door of possibility that the woman becomes simply a means of pleasure for the man. It has always surprised me that women, particularly feminists, can’t (or just blindly refuse) see this connection.
Rather than demanding that men treat women with dignity and supporting all the means necessary to bring that into reality, most modern feminists and feminist organizations have sold women a bill of goods. Contraception does nothing more than make it easier for men to have more sex with more women and fewer consequences. How does contraception improve women’s lot except for the fact that it prevents pregnancy? Don’t women deserve more than that? Paul VI thought they did.
He also thought our youth deserve better. Consider that this was written in 1968, well before the so-called sexual revolution’s full effects were felt. Like his successor, Saint John Paul II, Saint Paul VI also appeared to believe in the goodness of the youth and that if they were given the proper support, they would do the right thing.
How awful it is to then lead them to do the wrong thing?
Look what has happened in the nearly 50 years since. Contraception is now widely available in schools across the nation and children are becoming sexually active at younger and younger ages. Many sex education programs actually encourage casual sex with the use of contraception. The schools, of course, are linked with the government. Read what this great prophet had to say about contraceptive use in the hands of those in authority:
"Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife."
Wow! Again, Paul VI wrote this well before most governments even involved themselves in the private lives of citizens the way they do today. He saw it coming! Sadly, he was right. Consider the push to get “developing” nations to embrace contraception by organizations like Planned Parenthood and the United Nations.
Consider governments like that of China and its barbaric one-child policy. Consider even the government of the Unites States overstepping its legal and constitutional boundaries by requiring employers to provide contraceptive and abortifacient coverage even if it goes against their religious beliefs!
It should also be noted that this type of thinking has truly paved the way for other moral horrors such as human cloning and in-vitro fertilization, things that were for Pope Paul VI, probably matters of science-fiction at that time. Now they are the norm, because acceptance of contraception has led to the divorce of procreation from the sexual act so that sex has become a mere means of pleasure and not a participation in creation with the Great Creator.
"Consequently, unless we are willing that the responsibility of procreating life should be left to the arbitrary decision of men, we must accept that there are certain limits, beyond which it is wrong to go, to the power of man over his own body and its natural functions—limits, let it be said, which no one, whether as a private individual or as a public authority, can lawfully exceed."
Despite how anointed this encyclical truly is and how brightly the power and light of the Gospel shines through it, the reception it received outside the Catholic Church was hostile which was to be expected. What no one really foresaw was the reaction within the Church. Almost immediately, theologians and those pushing for the Church to “change the rules” lambasted and ridiculed the Holy Father and verbally persecuted him with all manner of vile recrimination.
He was accused of being reactionary, backwards and cruel. For the first time since the Reformation, Catholic theologians openly defied the pope and his authentic Magisterium. They accused him of betraying modern man and of being “out-of-touch” with people and their problems and for the first time in modernity, criticized the teaching authority of the pope publicly.
It is said that the backlash from the encyclical personally affected and burdened the pope for the rest of his days and drew him in to share very deeply in the Passion of the suffering Jesus.
In fact, his Secretary of State, Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, remarked, “On the morning of July 25, 1968, Paul VI celebrated the Mass of the Holy Spirit, asked for light from on high and signed it. It was his most difficult signature, one of his most glorious signatures. He signed his own passion.”
Apparently he foresaw this, too. In Section 18 of the encyclical, after anticipating people’s difficulty with the Church’s teaching on this matter, His Holiness rightly notes the origin of the Church’s prohibition:
"It is to be anticipated that perhaps not everyone will easily accept this particular teaching. There is too much clamorous outcry against the voice of the Church, and this is intensified by modern means of communication. But it comes as no surprise to the Church that she, no less than her divine Founder, is destined to be a 'sign of contradiction.' She does not, because of this, evade the duty imposed on her of proclaiming humbly but firmly the entire moral law, both natural and evangelical. Since the Church did not make either of these laws, she cannot be their arbiter—only their guardian and interpreter. It could never be right for her to declare lawful what is in fact unlawful, since that, by its very nature, is always opposed to the true good of man.
In preserving intact the whole moral law of marriage, the Church is convinced that she is contributing to the creation of a truly human civilization. She urges man not to betray his personal responsibilities by putting all his faith in technical expedients. In this way she defends the dignity of husband and wife. This course of action shows that the Church, loyal to the example and teaching of the divine Savior, is sincere and unselfish in her regard for men whom she strives to help even now during this earthly pilgrimage 'to share God's life as sons of the living God, the Father of all men.'"
So, even many years before an obscure Polish bishop from behind the Iron Curtain would be elevated to the See of Peter and teach what would become known is the Theology of the Body, it seems that this gentle and unassuming former archbishop of Milan knew also that if Jesus Christ fully revealed man to himself as Vatican II taught, that it is precisely through the proper use and understanding of the sexual act that this is done.
At this point, you’re probably wondering why a blog about male homosexuality has a whole chapter devoted to contraception. It is really very simple. The two are inseparable. Once certain Christian denominations began to open the door to contracepted sex, they nullified the procreative aspect of it.
Any contracepted sexual act is, by its very nature, sterile, even if it is done within the marital bed. As such, it ceases to reflect and participate in the creative action of a life-giving God.
It causes the couple to lie to each other in the language of the body. The message it sends is that of an anti-sacrament. Theologian Christopher West notes that the true and proper response of the man to his bride is that of Jesus Christ, “This is my body, given up for you” and the proper response of the bride is that of Mary, “Let it be done to me according to your word.”
Contraception turns this dialogue on its head and in this anti-sacrament, the man selfishly says to his bride, “This is my body, NOT given up for you.”
Her selfish response becomes, “Let it NOT be done to me according to your word."
So, in a certain sense, the contracepted sexual act is rendered something akin to a homosexual act where pleasure is the ultimate goal rather than a true donation of self to the other partner, which means openness to life and God’s will. So, unfortunately by sterilizing true heterosexual marriage, we have, in essence, paved the way for same-sex marriage and as Christians, we have shot ourselves in the proverbial foot in our ability to respond to those who push for its acceptance. As a society (and Church?), once we accepted contraception within marriage, it was really only a matter of time before a widespread acceptance of homosexuality happened.
Before contraception became widely available and used, the moral law referred to in the encyclical could be used as a point of reference. It could be easily demonstrated that only a marital act between a man and woman could generate life and therefore deserved a privileged place in society as the very future of that society.
If we have legitimized the sterilization of that act, then we no longer have that moral compass. If the greater purpose of sex is pleasure, apart from procreation, then who are we to say who can have pleasure with whom? Why does it matter if it is two (or more) men or women? The truth is that people who experience same-sex attraction logically see no reason not to act on those desires. Who is anyone to say that heterosexual marriage is somehow better or deserves a more privileged place than same-sex marriage? Who can blame them for thinking so?
Saint Paul VI, somehow saw that terrible smoke of Satan enter the Temple and tried to contain it with Humanae Vitae yet he seemed to realize that as great as his encyclical was, it was still only a beginning of the dialogue with a society which had lost its way mired in the messy aftermath of the sexual revolution.
The pope wrote (7), “It is the whole man and the whole mission to which he is called that must be considered: both its natural, earthly aspects and its supernatural, eternal aspects.”
He attempted to do just that in the encyclical but based on the reception it received, he knew that more was needed. At some level, I think he knew that he wasn’t the one to whom this mission would be entrusted. But, he knew of someone else, who many sources say actually influenced the writing of Humane Vitae and inspired a lot of the ideas within it.
In Krakow, Poland under the watchful eye of its communist government awaited a truly “great” man who was about to step into the cosmic conflict between good and evil.