Paul VI: “danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law”

Paul VIThe pontificate of Paul VI produced many a disaster, in my opinion, but when it came to a crucial turning point, in the face of diabolical opposition Paul VI issued Humane vitae.

I suspect many of you have never actually read Humanae vitae, though you have heard many invoke it for good or ill.

Here is an excerpt:

Consequences of Artificial Methods

17. 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.

Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? 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.

Limits to Man’s Power

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. These limits are expressly imposed because of the reverence due to the whole human organism and its natural functions, in the light of the principles We stated earlier, and in accordance with a correct understanding of the “principle of totality” enunciated by Our predecessor Pope Pius XII.


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  1. acardnal says:

    I have read Humanae Vitae more than once. My copy is replete with yellow highlighter markings. And I have written to newspaper’s “Letters to Editors” sections about it, too.

  2. Supertradmum says:

    I just wrote this on your blog a few minutes ago. I read Humanae Vitae when it came out and actually wrote to the Pope to congratulate him on the Encyclical at some point. I was 19 years old when it came out, and I got an answer from his office-I still have the letter. Anyone, even a teenager, could have read the work. I have no patience for adults who do not want to know their faith by reading. I have talked to a sixth year seminarian today in America, in grad school, who has read as part of his formation and course work in two seminaries, TWO encyclicals. We are training another generation of ignorant priests. But, the laity need to take responsibility for their own faith. God will ask us what we did to understand the issues, not if we relied on such and such a priest or bishop.

    The document is prophetic and beautiful.

  3. NoTambourines says:


    “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.”

    Prophetic. Supplemental from Slate: “Sex Is Cheap: Why young men have the upper hand in bed, even when they’re failing in life.”

    I wish the anti-Catholics who insist the Church’s teachings on sexuality are joyless, cynical, and made up by cranky celibates who don’t want anyone to be happy would sit their keisters down and actually read what the Pope Paul VI wrote there. The Church has the highest ideal of married love. The alternative has not performed as advertised. It has failed miserably, and made people miserable.

  4. Gregg the Obscure says:

    Many years ago – before I was a Catholic – I read Humanae Vitae with an eye to finding any flaws in it. Of course I couldn’t find any and before long I was Catholic as it was obvious that the Holy Spirit had guided Paul VI in this instance.

  5. Maltese says:

    Gregg, I became Catholic because of the Church’s stance against contraception. We must remember the phantom penumbra in Griswold led to the horror of abortion in Roe.

    The announcement today that religious institutions wouldn’t be required to provide contraception, but only their insurance carriers, is pure sophistry! What’s the difference? Either way religious institutions have to fund it.

  6. Kerry says:

    Dittos to what Supertradmum said. It is an encyclical not to be missed, and many current evils come clearer into focus.

  7. Supertradmum says:

    I have a hefty quotation from Leo XIII on my blog today your time, yesterday mine. Here is part of it which is apropos. “for the right to command and to require obedience exists only so far as it is in accordance with the authority of God, and is within the measure that He has laid down. But when anything is commanded which is plainly at variance with the will of God, there is a wide departure from this Divinely constituted order, and at the same time a direct conflict with Divine authority; therefore, it is right not to obey.”

    But, we must obey Humanae Vitae….”No member of the faithful could possibly deny that the Church is competent in her magisterium to interpret the natural moral law. It is in fact indisputable, as Our predecessors have many times declared, (l) that Jesus Christ, when He communicated His divine power to Peter and the other Apostles and sent them to teach all nations His commandments, (2) constituted them as the authentic guardians and interpreters of the whole moral law, not only, that is, of the law of the Gospel but also of the natural law. For the natural law, too, declares the will of God, and its faithful observance is necessary for men’s eternal salvation. (3)”

  8. JayDeee says:

    White House response to petition just now out: Of course, late Friday info dump.

    It is, as you can guess, very disingenuous. :-(

  9. lh says:

    I have read it several times. We also have a class/discussion group on encyclicals and apostolic letters at a parish in the area. Unfortunately there are just a handful that attend.

  10. JayDeee says:

    …and Rocco tweets out a good response from the USCCB: “The only complete solution to this religious liberty problem is for HHS to rescind the mandate of these objectionable services.”

  11. Charles E Flynn says:

    This Business Insider article likely to provide a few surprises, and a few laughs:

    Time To Admit It: The Church Has Always Been Right On Birth Control, by Michael Brendan Dougherty and Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry.

  12. Bryan Boyle says:

    Actually…read this section and a couple before it last week to my RCIA class…so, ignorance is no excuse. It is readable, it is accessible…it was ahead of its time.

  13. pseudomodo says:

    If I was Pope I’d canonize Paul VI just for writing Humane Vitae.

    On its 40th anniversary I chose to reread the ‘Winnipeg Statement’ rather than HV which I had read for many years.

  14. I think the promulgation of Humanae vitae is an outstanding proof of the truth of papal infallibility. It ranks with the moment when Clement VII denied Henry VIII his anullment. In each case, you had a weak pope doing the right thing despite the threat of schism and overwhelming pressure from within and without the Church to do the wrong thing. The Holy Spirit may allow the Barque of Peter to ride dangerously close to the edge of Niagara Falls, but He will not let it go over.

  15. PostCatholic says:

    We have an simple way, here in America, of “passing power into the hands” of public authorities who don’t concern themselves with Catholic moral precepts. We call it an election.

  16. asperges says:

    If ever there were an enigma it was to be found in Paul VI. As a Pope he was largely a disaster and allowed the Church to get completely out of hand. However the one, enduring and important thing he did was Humanae Vitae, whose general disregard by so many ever since has proved the keystone to so many personal acts of rebellion: a real, modern, forbidden apple. A priest once attributed most ills to this alone and I used to think it was a gross exaggeration, but he was right. It stands for so much.

    Pace, Miss Moore, but I think Clement VII might have been rather intimidated by Catherine of Aragon’s nephew, Charles V, whose troops had been responsible for the sack of Rome a little earlier. Whether it was duty or fear of more trouble that made him refuse Henry VIII is a matter of conjecture. To be fair to Paul VI, he did the right thing without such obvious pressure. His reward, I suppose, was the ‘sack’ of the Church, to keep the analogy; but whether he foresaw that was questionable. He was reviled for his act whatever his thoughts.

  17. Imrahil says:

    Dear @PostCatholic,

    the Pope did not here comment about the constitution of the State, but about the possibility that conception once available, in addition to its intrinsical badness, may be a weapon for tyrants (to use the classical philosophical word) to, shortly said, tyrannize. As it is if someone acts against the moral precepts, it generally is hurtful to the others involved.

    Tthe definite article does not stand there for no reason btw. “Catholic moral precepts”, as you put it, are rare (except if the word Catholic is literally understood as “common”); Fr Prof. Messner in his celebrated Social Ethics denies there are any (going a bit too far in my view, but that’d take a too long explanation). We’re talking about natural law, or, forgive my impudence as a foreigner, about the certain rights (and duties) inalienable etc. etc.

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