The Roman Catholic church has consistently taken a stand against non-natural forms of birth control. Pope Paul VI took such a stand on this day July 25, 1968 in an encyclical known as Humanae vitae (Of Human Life). It was a public statement from an ecclesiastic body that reverberated immediately around the world and now, decades later, is still the source of great emotional controversy.
New problems, problems of overpopulation and economics had arisen, making it needful for him to address the issues of birth control. Appealing to a total vision of man, the pope reminded the faithful that birth control must be examined in light of eternity and its values. Transmitting life is a sacred duty, said the Pope. Married love "is a very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything, without undue reservations or selfish calculations. Whoever truly loves his marriage partner loves not only for what he receives, but for the partner's self, rejoicing that he can enrich his partner with the gift of himself."
The Pope went on to state a key point in his argument. "Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the begetting and educating of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute very substantially to the welfare of their parents."
Total love, such as a man and wife should share, is meant to be responsible love. Responsible love develops character and self-control. "To dominate instinct by means of one's reason and free will undoubtedly requires ascetical practices. . .Yet this discipline...far from harming conjugal love, rather confers on it a higher human value. It demands continual effort yet, thanks to its beneficent influence, husband and wife fully develop their personalities, being enriched with spiritual values. Such discipline bestows upon family life fruits of serenity and peace, and facilitates the solution of other problems; it favors attention for one's partner, helps both parties to drive out selfishness, the enemy of true love; and deepens their sense of responsibility." If held, these values are communicated to children who, therefore, grow up with similar values of their own.
The Pope realistically pointed out that society can weaken family values by permitting pornography, exotic dancing and the like. Governments must support the moral order by making wise provision for families and for the moral education of children. Husbands and wives have a duty to bring Christian virtues into the home. The life of Christ must be evident there. Each home should have an outreach, a witness. The husband should love his wife and the wife respect her husband. The total person, spiritual and physical is involved.
In summation the Pope called for the responsible use of natural birth control and avoidance of artificial control. He strongly opposed abortion.
- Pope and pill; more documentation on the birth regulation debate. Edited and introduced by Leo Pyle. Baltimore, Helicon Press, 1968.
- Gross, Ernie. This Day in Religion. New York, New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, 1990.
- Various encyclopedia and internet articles.
Last updated April, 2007.