Papal Magisterium and 'Humanae Vitae'

Author: Joseph F. Costanzo S.J.


Joseph F. Costanzo S.J.

By virtue of the mandate entrusted to us by Christ. [Humanae Vitae (6)]

This article is one priest's reflection upon a constellation of arguments enunciated by the dissident clerics who have denied the obligatory force of the encyclical Humanae Vitae, upon the conscience of spouses. I have arranged them in a sort of logical procession as follows: the "changing concept of authority"; episcopal collegiality and the papal magisterium; the controversial question of the historical and doctrinal validity of Humanae Vitae; the matter of conscience; religious freedom. I am not unaware that other considerations may be attended to but I have limited myself to those arguments which are pointedly related by the dissident clerics to the Second Vatican Council as if to say that Pope Paul has by his doctrinal teaching on birth regluation turned his back upon the documents and spirit of that Synod and beclouded the aggiornamento they augured so hopefully. In a careful scrutiny of the Council documents, [1] I noted an intriguing silence about "theologians" which I thought may be construed as a telling commentary upon the role the dissident "theologians" claim to be rightfully their own within the magisterium of the Church.

I. The Changing Concept of Authority

Sociologizing clerics exceed the bounds of pardonable presumption when they endeavor to impose human experiential constructs of authority upon the divine provision for salvation history. They see the concentration of papal authority as a quotient of history, in the succession of strong popes who fought to salvage a Christian society from the irruptive assaults of barbarian invasions, as the emergence of papal supremacy at the apex of power in a pattern of feudal society during vacuums of secular strength, particularly during the pontificates of Gregory VII, Innocent III, and Innocent IV. They see historical parallelism during the reign of lesser popes with the rise of autocratic emperors and kings--Clovis, Charlemagne, the Otto's, and so on. These historicist perspectives confuse the fortunes and vicissitudes of institutional growth and involvement in human events with the papal office itself, its origin, and its scope, by adumbrating all human experiences within a naturalist monism. The papal apostolic mission, its teaching authority and jurisdiction, rests wholly upon a divine mandate. It is a supernatural fact. It is not a natural fact either as a response to the exigencies of the natural moral law nor is it the contrivance and resultant of purely conflicting and emergent historical forces. The papacy manifests itself in its institutional extension and multiplicity of auxiliary agencies in divers ways in history but the origin of the papal office itself and its divinely endowed empowerments are not the product of nor subject to the laws of historicism. It has no human equivalent or parallel among the wide range of social and political institutions. The papal office is unique in origin (immediate divine establishment), unique in its nature (divinely commissioned to teach the ways of eternal salvation and to administer the sacraments of sanctification), unique in character (a permanent office, enduring to the end of time), unique in its prerogatives (the warrant against errancy in matters of faith and morals), unique in the exercise and extent of its jurisdiction (plenary, universal, unconditioned by any dependency upon human agencies for the validity of its authentic and authoritative teaching).

Political authority is from God but in the absence of a divine revelation manifesting a direct designation by God, the recipient of authority, the manner and condition of its exercise, are constructs of human contrivance. It is human in the presuppositions of its actual exercise (the consensual and contractual basis), human in the definition, distribution, and assignation of offices (constitutionalism), human in the de iure extension of popular participation (democratization), human in enlarged popular accountability (representative governance), human in the delegation and limitation placed upon active governing authority (popular sovereignty). Centuries of political speculation and experience in the West have forged a variety of political and legal instrumentalities, to preclude the exercise of arbitrary power. The sociologizing clerics who look for analogous expansion and distribution of papal authority in the government of the Church delve into history but they do so without benefit of the Christian vision.

II. Episcopal Collegiality and Papal Magisterium

There is no distinction between the Roman Pontiff and the bishops taken collectively, but between the Roman Pontiff by himself and the Roman Pontiff together with the bishops (cf. Appendix to Lumen Gentium).

In the celebrated third chapter of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), the Second Vatican Council gave expression to the doctrinal formulation of the collegiality of bishops. The more one studies the document, the more firmly the conviction grows that in the act of affirming the collegiality of bishops, the Synod was reaffirming the primacy and infallibility of the Pope as Peter's successor with a greater sharpness-if that were possible --than had Vatican I. Two dogmatic professions emerge: one, the plenary, supreme teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff in matters of faith and morals, whether solemnly exercised infallibly ex cathedra or otherwise officially expressed rests wholly and exclusively upon the mandate entrusted by Christ to Peter and his successors as His vicars upon the earth. It is independent, unconditioned by any dependency upon the approval or consent of others within the Church. Second, the authenticity and authority of the magisterial functions of a bishop or severalty of bishops is wholly contingent upon union and agreement with the Roman Pontiff. I for one cannot completely suppress the deep lingering conjecture that the doctrinal formulation of the collegiality of bishops as successors to the Apostles in their union with Peter provided the occasion to remove whatever dim doubts may have endured about the definition of papal infallibility and primacy in the First Vatican Council. Repeatedly without exception as if to foreclose any faint supposition to the contrary that a strict literalist might seize upon, every mention of the episcopal college is conjoined with such expressions as "in union with," "in communion with," "joined together with," "unity with," "together with," "only with the consent of," "in agreement with," the Roman Pontiff. Those who would infer from episcopal collegiality a diffusion of papal authority among co-participants, a dependence of the papal magisterium upon a collective episcopal consensus, a diminution of its independence, are reasoning from prepossessions wholly at variance with the Council Fathers themselves to whose documents they make such facile rhetorical reference. The practical consequence logically inherent in the doctrinal formula of the college of bishops is to rein into unity with the Roman Pontiff the magisterium office of every bishop.

But the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is simultaneously conceived of in terms of its head, the Roman Pontiff, Peter's successor, and without any lessening of his power of primacy over all, pastors as well as the general faithful. For in virtue of his office, that is, as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme, and universal power over the Church. And he can always exercise this power freely.

The order of bishops is the successor to the college of the apostles in teaching authority and pastoral rule; or, rather, in the episcopal order the apostolic body continues without a break. Together with its head, the Roman pontiff, and never without its head, the episcopal order is the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church. But this power can be exercised only with the consent of the Roman Pontiff. For Our Lord made Simon Peter alone the rock and keybearer of the Church (cf. Mt. 16:18- 19), and appointed him shepherd of the whole flock (cf. Jn. 21:15 ff.) (Lumen Gentium, 22).

The dependence of union and consensual agreement is always on the part of the bishop with the Vicar of Christ, and not vice versa. [2]

III. Humanae Vitae

We had no doubt about Our duty to give Our decision in the terms expressed in the present Encyclical .... We hoped that our scholars especially would be able to discover in the document the genuine thread that connects it with the Christian concept of life and which permits Us to make Our own the words of St. Paul: "But we have the mind of Christ" (I Cor. 2:16) (General Audience at Castel Gandolfo, July 31, 1968).

Historical Conspectus

John J. Noonan, author of Contraception, A History of Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists, and one who augured a diverse papal pronouncement from Humanae Vitae, acknowledged in 1965: "No Catholic writer before 1963 had asserted that the general prohibition of contraception was wrong." [3] The early Church opposed the rampant practice of contraception in Roman society, a practice usually in the form of coitus interruptus or by crude drugs, as well as abortion and infanticide. In the catalogue of mortal sins listed under the way of Death in Didache 5.2, the first-century summary of the teachings of the Apostles for the catechumens, is the extinction of life by contraceptive drugs (pharmakeia) and abortion ("child- murderers"). The same condemnation reappears in the Epistle to Barnabas 20.2, an early second-century document. Clement of Alexandria denounced contraceptive methods in unmistakable language. "Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted" (Paedogogus 2, 10, 91, 2). Marcus Minucius Felix strongly denounced the use by the pagan women of contraceptive or abortifacient drugs which "extinguish the beginning of a future man, and before they bear, commit parricide" (Octavius 30.2). Lactantius numbers among evil carnal acts those with contraceptive effects (Divinae Institutiones, 6.20.25). St. Justin wrote, "We Christians either marry only to produce children, or, if we refuse to marry, are completely continent" (Apologia, 1.29). Athenagoras wrote to Marcus Aurelius and to Commodus in defense of the morality of Christians that they marry only to produce children and thereby implicitly excluded any marital act to the contrary (Legatio pro Christianis, 33). Opposition to Christian doctrine came mainly from the Gnostics in the second century, the Manichaeans in the fourth, and the Cathari in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Condemnations of contraceptive drugs do not, comparatively speaking, appear as frequently as those of carnal actions with contraceptive effects. But preventive interference with the life- giving process in marriage is often denounced together with abortion and murder to stress, it would seem, the moral depravity of such actions. On the other hand, there is absence of any evidence of an official and authoritative teaching of the Church that would permit on occasion for exceptional reasons a single contraceptive act as morally correct within a habitual and general commitment by the spouses to the procreative purpose of marriage. Lactantius does raise the problem of the Christian who cannot support a large family and the only alternative he points to is continence (Divinae Institutiones, 6.20.25).

The sacrality of marriage and its carnal union was expressed in its most exalted terms in St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, 5:25-33, wherein the spouses' love for one another is projected against Christ's love for His Church. The "inseparable connection" and essentially equal terms of the interrelationship between the "two meanings of the conjugal act," the unitive and procreative, which Humanae Vitae affirmed against the subordination of one to the other (H. V. 12), has its strongest scriptural basis in the Pauline Epistle and among patristic writings in St. John Chrysostom's Homily 20 on Ephesians. But the prevailing teaching of the Church for centuries to come—most likely in response to the heterodox concepts of marriage and procreation taught by the Gnostics, Manichaeans, and the Pelagians—was based on St. Augustine's threefold purposes of marriage—proles, fides, sacramentum (De bono matrimonii 29.32). The primary and principal purpose is procreation, then, a bond of mutual indebtedness to supply one another's needs, and thirdly, the indissolubility of marriage double reinforced by the Christian sacrament. This doctrinal teaching insisted on the sacral nature of the marital act even as it was posited, as indeed all of man was, within the mystery of Original Sin, the disobedient body and its consequences. In recent times, down to the Second Vatican Council, some moral theologians advocated the primacy of love in marriage which, while committed habitually to procreation, might allow single conjugal acts to be rendered intentionally infecund for exceptional reasons with full regard for the totality of the matrimonial good. Humanae Vitae rejected the supposition of the subordination of one to the other by affirming categorically the equally essential interrelationship of the meanings of the conjugal act, the unitive and the procreative.

Down to 1930, all Christian churches proscribed artificial birth regulation as a moral evil. Historically, it was the predominantly Protestant-controlled legislatures in some countries which enacted public laws against the manufacture, distribution, and sale of contraceptive devices. At the Lambeth Conference of 1930 the Anglican bishops were the first to break with its traditional opposition and to permit the artificial regulation of births. Since then, the Anglican Church and other Protestant churches have come to advocate planned parenthood as a duty and, through succeeding years, to allow a narrowly restricted permissiveness for permanent sterilization, and even under the most compelling reasons, abortion and infanticide. In England, these ecclesiastical relaxations of conjugal sexual morality have become embodied into public laws which on their face are sufficiently broad and elastic to withstand most objections to the contrary.

Casti Connubii

On December 31, 1930, Pope Pius XI promulgated the encyclical Casti Connubii, the most authoritative papal pronouncement on contraception since the bull, Effraenatam, of Pope Sixtus V in 1588. After discoursing about the divine institution of marriage, its beauty, and multiple blessings, Pius XI turns to the reasons generally given to justify the "criminal abuse" of the conjugal act by frustrating the generative intent of the act of intercourse.

But no reason, however grave, may be put forward by which anything intrinsically against nature may become conformable to nature and morally good. Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural effect and purpose, sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious.

After noting the action of the Anglican bishops, he contrasts the steadfastness of the Catholic Church to integrity of doctrine for which she had been divinely commissioned.

The Catholic Church, to whom God had entrusted the defense of the integrity and purity of morals, standing erect in the midst of the moral ruin which surrounds her, in order that she may preserve the chastity of the nuptial union from being defiled by this foul stain, raises her voice in token of her divine ambassadorship and through Our mouth proclaims anew: any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of grave sin (AAS, 22:559-560).[4]

The general proscription—"any use of marriage whatever" would seem to be all-inclusive of every act directly related to the coital act itself. However, in the constructive interpretation of a moral or legal prohibition, the moral agent is held to the narrow interpretation. The prohibition in Casti Connubii could be restricted to an action (coitus interruptus) or mechanical device used by either spouse so that seminal intromission or fecundation can be obstructed in the act of intercourse. Whatever doubts were entertained about the range of the prohibition were removed by Pope Pius XII when in his Allocution to the Italian Catholic Society of Midwives on October 29, 1951, he rephrased the doctrinal teaching of Casti Connubii so as to state explicitly the inclusion of postcoital interference with the natural prospects of fecundation.

Precept is valid today

Our predecessor, Pius XI, of happy memory, in his encyclical Casti Connubii, December 31, 1930, solemnly proclaimed anew the fundamental law governing the marital act and conjugal relations; that any attempt on the part of the married people to deprive this act of its inherent force and to impede the procreation of new life, either in the performance of the act itself or in the course of the development of its natural consequences, is immoral (nello sviluppo delle sue consequenze naturali); and no alleged "indication" or need can convert an intrinsically immoral act into a moral and lawful one.

This precept is as valid today as it was yesterday; and it will be the same tomorrow and always; because it does not imply a precept of the human law, but is the expression of a law which is natural and divine (AAS, 43:843) (italics added).

The explicit proscription of postcoital frustration of the natural prospects of intercourse is stated calculatedly in such a manner as to indicate that the Roman Pontiff is not adding to the proscriptions of Casti Connubii but explicitating what was immanent within the comprehensive phrase "any use whatsoever of matrimony." Even more notable is the subsumption of both coital and postcoital abuses under one and the same precept, whose irrevocability is spelt out in an all-exhaustive temporal dimension, "valid yesterday, today, tomorrow, always." In a radio broadcast, March 23, 1952, Pope Pius XII referred to his earlier statement as an illustration of the Roman Pontiff "intervening authoritatively in moral questions" (AAS, 44:275).

A third question, a precoital action calculated to render the conjugal act temporarily infecund, was doubly compounded by the development of the prestigerone pill which was equally effective to induce contraceptive sterilization as well as correct an irregular ovulatory cycle. On September 12, 1958, Pope Pius XII in an Address to the Hematologists addressed himself to the new moral problem: "Is it licit to prevent ovulation by means of pills used as remedies for exaggerated reactions of the uterus and of the organism, although this medication, by preventing ovulation, also makes fecundation impossible?" His authoritative response was an application of the principle of double effect. The intake of the drug with the direct intent of preventing pregnancy was direct sterilization and therefore "illicit." But if the use of the drug is motivated primarily to the correction of an ovulatory irregularity it was permissible even if it interdicted temporarily the prospects of fecundation. In a word, the moral condemnation falls equally upon temporary contraceptive sterilization as in the case of anovulatory drugs as it does upon direct and permanent sterilization as with vasectomy and salpingectomy (AAS 50:732- 740).

"The Time has Come"

Publication in 1963 of The Time Has Come, by Dr. John Rock, a Catholic and an eminent American gynecologist, brought to the surface a controversy that had seemingly quieted with Pope Pius XII's pronouncement of 1958. Dr. Rock contended that when a woman makes a conscious decision to swallow Enovid pills she is simply allowing the brain to start a natural suppressive process that other body systems bring about automatically in other circumstances, and like the rhythm method, not an unnatural means of birth regulation. The real difference, he maintained, between Catholics and non-Catholics was only over method rather than objective. But, as his own bishop, Richard Cardinal Cushing, noted, the qualifying word "only" was, in this instance, an absolute and not a comparative adjective.

On September 29, 1963, the second session of the Vatican Council convened. Publication of articles and books by the laity, clerics, and ecclesiastical authorities, and speeches by Melkite Patriarch Maximos IV, Cardinal Suenens of Belgium and Cardinal Leger of Montreal at the Council, urged reconsideration of the Church's teaching on birth control. Both Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI in the spirit of aggiornamento had stressed the need of baring, as it were, the place and role of the Church in the contemporary world to the broad daylight of view for all to see, and the fearless confrontation with the moral problems that weighed heavily upon all mankind. The highly sensitive nature of the question with its many complexities explains in part the withdrawal of it from general discourse by the Fathers of the Council and entrusting the problem for a thorough study to a papal commission. The ultimate and final judgment was to be given by the Roman Pontiff. Unfortunately, the open discussion of the moral question suggested in some quarters that birth control was at its inner core an open question. It was hardly a difficult step to advance to lex dubia non obligat and the casuistry of probabilism. When some confidently foretold a change in Church teaching, the Holy Father concerned over their effect upon the consciences of the faithful felt compelled to warn against such presumptive misconstructions placed upon the interlude of "study and reflection."

A controversy of sorts was generated on whether a practical doubt had been engendered prior to Humanae Vitae, a controversy which still is simmering. [5] After examining the succession of statements made by the Holy Father, we are persuaded that there never was any personal doubt in the mind of Pope Paul on the immutability of the norms set down by his predecessors, Pius XI and Pius XII. At the same time, we acknowledge that in one or two instances of categorical affirmation of the enduring obligatory force of those norms, Pope Paul also gives expression to a time dimension--"as long as," "until now," "not now in a state of doubt." Our own conclusions are that none of the categorical reaffirmations is weakened by these temporal allusions; that the time element must be related to the interlude of "study and reflection"; that the temporal waiting period preceding Humanae Vitae was not expressive of any personal hesitance but a necessary incidence of and a respectful attendance upon the studies which his predecessor, Pope John, and he had initiated. The doubts that were fostered may be attributed to two principal causes: first, to the awkward, unavoidable and circumstanced conjunction of declaring firmly adherence to the traditional norms and at the same time putting off the solemnity of a formal declaration until after the commission's reports were completed and studied. And, secondly, to the excessive confidence of those spokesmen who publicly foretold the novel direction of the papal teaching. It is to this latter factor that the major responsibility of engendering a practical doubt in the minds of the faithful must be attributed as well as the painful spiritual consequences that have endured to this day.

A word is in order about the facile reference to probabilism and to lex dubia non obligat. Probabilism simply points to the lack of conclusive persuasion that an alleged law is known with such certainty as to preclude some reasonable intellectual doubts. Probabilism admits that in choosing to act contrary to an alleged law, the individual may be materially if not formally violating the law. But the saving grace of probabilism is that the moral agent who chooses to act contrary to the alleged law does so prudently, not unreasonably. If, then, as we hold, Pope Paul held steadfast to the proscriptions against contraceptives set down in Casti Connubii and repeated by Pius XII, then reliance upon probabilism prior to Humanae Vitae seems to us unwarranted. A lex dubia non obligat is a contradiction in terms. If it is a law it has some obligatory force. If it is doubtful, then obviously we have no law except by extrinsic connotation. The expression "doubtful law" is permissible in the philosophical inquest into the order of morality and its exigencies. Probabilism, on the contrary, allows that some hold to the existence of an alleged law and to its substantive meaning while others are not as fully convinced. Probabilism is related to the consensus of the professional moralist.

Papal Magisterium and the Natural Moral Law

No believer will wish to deny that the teaching authority of the Church is competent to interpret even the natural moral law. It is, in fact, indisputable, as our predecessors have many times declared, that Jesus Christ, when communicating to Peter and to the Apostles His divine authority and sending them to teach all nations His commandments, constituted them as guardians and authentic interpreters of all moral law, not only, that is, of the law of the Gospel, but also of the natural law, which is also an expression of the will of God, the faithful fulfillment of which is equally necessary for salvation (H. V. 4).

The use of oral contraceptives was the specific issue upon which the general principle of Casti Connubii was brought to bear in Humanae Vitae. This was done by a fresh and authoritative insistence on the competency of the papal magisterium to be an authentic interpreter of all the moral law, by virtue of the mandate of Christ to Peter and his successors. We think that this forceful confirmation of what in fact had been also affirmed by previous Pontiffs will emerge as a principal doctrinal teaching of the encyclical no less than the specific ruling on the pill.

Historically, references to the natural moral law are more frequently found in Church documents since the pontificate of Pius IX than in earlier Church history. At the Synod of Arles (475 A.D.) Lucidus, the presbyter, submitted to a rejection of his erroneous teaching by admitting to the divine providence of salvation for those who lived before Christ.

Assero etiam per tationem et ordinem saeculorum alios lege gratiae, alios lege Moysi, alios lege naturae, quam Deus in omnium cordibus scripsit, in spe adventus Christi fuisse salvatos (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion Symbolorum, ed. 1948, p. 76).

Medieval popes intervened in temporalities ratione peccati, ratione justitae with practically illimitable powers of adjudication on the morality of every conceivable human activity. While the medievalists, William Auxerre, Albert the Great, and St. Thomas Aquinas, developed a natural-law philosophy solely within the purview of human reason, their contemporaries generally made mention of natural law either in terms of the theologians' hyphenation of the natural-revelational moral theology or the canonists' amalgam of natural-supernatural (scriptural), juristic constructs. There is notably greater reliance upon natural law in the papal encyclicals of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This was undoubtedly required by the very nature of the questions touching upon the political order (the State, education, communism, Nazism, fascism, conduct of war), social (racial relations), economic (labor conditions, wages, underdeveloped nations), familial (conjugal relations, indissolubility of marriage), and medico-moral problems. Invariably, mention of the natural law is accompanied by reference to "Christian wisdom," "Christian vision," "supernatural," "the teachings of Christ," "the evangelical," and so on. The competence of the magisterium to proclaim authoritatively not only in dogma but also on the entire moral law is affirmed repeatedly without restriction and unconditionally. In addition, necessity for the exercise of this ecclesial authority as an indispensable assist to human reason is explained with particular relevance to conjugal relations by Pope Pius XI in Casti Connubii.

"This conformity of wedlock and moral conduct with the divine laws respecting marriage . . . supposes, however, that all can discern readily, with real certainty, and without any accompanying error, what those laws are. But everyone can see to how many fallacies an avenue would be opened up and how many errors would become mixed with the truth, if it were left solely to the light of reason of each to find out or if it were to be discovered by the private interpretation of the truth which is revealed. And if this is applicable to many other truths of the moral order, we must pay attention all the more to those things which appertain to marriage, where the inordinate desire for pleasure can attack frail human nature and easily deceive it and lead it astray. This is all the more true of the observance of the divine law, which demands sometimes hard and repeated sacrifices, for which, as experience points out, a weak man can find so many excuses for avoiding the fulfillment of the divine law."

"On this account, in order that no falsification or corruption of the divine law but a true genuine knowledge of it may enlighten the minds of men and guide their conduct, it is necessary that a filial and humble obedience towards the Church should be combined with devotedness to God and the desire of submitting to Him. For Christ Himself made the Church the teacher of truth in those things also which concern the ruling and regulation of moral conduct, even though some things are not of themselves impervious to human reason. For just as God in the case of the natural truths of religion and morality added revelation to the light of reason so that these things which are right and true, 'in the present state also of the human race may be known readily with real certainty without any admixture of error,' so for the same purpose He has constituted the Church the guardian and the teacher of the whole of the truth concerning religion and moral conduct" (AAS 22:579-80. 1930).

In Humanae Vitae, the God-given authority to interpret the entire moral law, the invariable conjunction of the natural and supernatural, and the necessity for the papal teaching to provide certitude to a fallible reason are expressed with a stress and emphasis that goes beyond preceding encyclicals. This triple interrelationship is central to the full force of Humanae Vitae. We are not being invited to accept an argument based on natural law but to acknowledge that the teaching of the Church on birth regulation be accepted precisely because it is the divinely established teacher who is interpreting the law of God. [6] St. Matthew records an encounter of Our Lord with the Pharisees (19:1- 12) that illustrates the moral necessity of Christian revelation that reason may know with certitude and free of all error those religious and moral truths which are not of their nature beyond its purview but which the passions of a disobedient body, the consequences of original and personal sin, and genuine burdens of the human condition, keep from admitting more readily. The Pharisees argued that a man could put away his wife because Moses had permitted it. Our Lord replied that marriage was indissoluble ("What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder"), that Moses had granted permission for divorce "because of the hardness of your heart," but "from the beginning it was not so." When His own disciples remonstrated that some marriages may be exceedingly difficult, Our Lord offered as an alternative to marriage an invitation to practice chastity for a supernatural motive ("for the kingdom of heaven"). So too, the Vicar of Christ, by virtue of that charisma that is the unique prerogative of his office may, like his Divine Master, authoritatively propound an authentic interpretation of the natural moral law that many may find difficult to accept and follow.

The Principle of Totality

Each and every marriage act (quilibet matrimonii usus) must remain open to the transmission of life (11).

The prevailing tradition dating from patristic times that held procreation to be the primary purpose of marriage has in recent decades been counterbalanced by an increasing emphasis upon conjugal love as the principal objective of matrimony. Not every conjugal act results in fecundation and there are many marriages among the young and old that are sterile. The tendency to view these two essential meanings of matrimony as competing with one another found some reconciliation in the suggestion that the marital status be considered as a totality with an overarching good to which individual acts of conjugal relations be related. Within this principle of totality a way was thought to be found to correct certain deviations tending to elevate conjugal love to the detriment of the procreative end of marriage and, on the other hand, to explain more satisfactorily natural sterility, temporary or permanent, in accord with the connatural intent of procreation. The practical consequence of this concept of totality would warrant the hypothesis that an individual act of marital intercourse might be morally permissible even though the prospects of procreation were intentionally precluded by the spouses for grave considerations provided that the totality of married life was sincerely governed by a habitual intention to beget children. Humanae Vitae takes explicit cognizance of this question when it asks: "Could it not be admitted, that is, that the finality of procreation pertains to the ensemble of conjugal life, rather than to its single acts?" The dogmatic response is, in the words of Casti Connubii and of Pius XII, "each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life." If marriage is not merely for procreation, it is not and cannot be merely for conjugal love. Each and every marital act is an inviolable and indissoluble totality in itself of true conjugal love.

Two meanings

"That teaching, often set forth by the magisterium, is founded upon the inseparable connection, willed by God and unable to be broken by man on his own initiative, between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning. Indeed, by its intimate structure, the conjugal act, while most closely uniting husband and wife, capacitates them for the generation of new lives, according to laws inscribed in the very being of man and of woman. By safeguarding both these essential aspects, the unitive and the procreative, the conjugal act preserves in its fullness the sense of true mutual love and its ordination towards man's most high calling to parenthood (12)."

A marital act is devoid of the fullness of true mutual love if it is not performed with the intent of the spouses to give by that very act the supreme gift of love to one another, the similitude of one another's being. In this, then, marital love is distinguishable preeminently for its superiority to other expressions of love between humans which are made manifest by loyalty, assistance, the exchange of material and spiritual gifts. Conjugal love intends to give without reservation what one is, his very being to the procreation of a similitude common to and generated by both spouses.

The Holy Father disallows the relevance of the principle of totality, which is applicable in medical surgery when a part of the body is sacrificed for the good of the whole, to matrimonial relations. Such a parallelism ignores the fact that the concept of nature is analogous. The conjugal act is itself a totality. It may not be trifled with; it can only be intentionally fulfilled connaturally or frustrated arbitrarily. Those dissident clerics who charge that the encyclical focuses upon the biological function of the marital act are less than fair in their criticism. The biological function of marital communion could hardly have been invested with greater spiritual significance, with a more personalist dedication of the spouses, with a more elevated cooperation of human providence with the divine.

A reciprocal act

"One who reflects well must also recognize that a reciprocal act of love, which jeopardizes the responsibility to transmit life which God the Creator, according to particular laws, inserted therein, is in contradiction with the design constitutive of marriage, and with the will of the Author of life. To use this divine gift destroying, even if only partially, its meaning and its purpose is to contradict the nature both of man and of woman and of their most intimate relationship, and therefore it is to contradict also the plan of God and His will. On the other hand, to make use of the gift of conjugal love while respecting the laws of the generative process means to acknowledge oneself not to be the arbiter of the sources of human life, but rather the minister of the design established by the Creator (13).

A Doctrinal Teaching

Amen, Amen, I say unto you ... thou shalt, ... thou shalt not....

Between the faithful who have given "religious submission of will and mind . . . to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra" (Lumen Gentium, 25) and the dissidents who challenge the obligatory force of Humanae Vitae, as the principal informant of a correct conscience on birth regulation, a third group has been emerging. On the one hand, they insist that they do give deference and loyalty to papal authority and, on the other, they try to mitigate the literal and explicit absoluteness of the proscriptions of Humanae Vitae. They do this either by (i) refusing to take seriously the dogmatic language in which the doctrinal teaching is unambiguously expressed, or by (ii) weakening the binding force of the doctrinal propositions by an evaluation of the merits of the intrinsic argumentation of the encyclical, or by (iii) mitigating the condemnations of contraceptive intercourse in the light of the pastoral counsels set down by Pope Paul in the third and concluding part of the encyclical. This third group differentiates itself from the outright dissident clerics by maintaining that Humanae Vitae gave expression to a prudent, positive, ennobling ideal which the spouses should strive to realize in their conjugal relations. In other words, they seem to say, Pope Paul did not authoritatively propound an authentic doctrinal teaching on marital relations to be followed in the daily lives of the married. This ingenious construction, we respectfully submit, can work to an earnest self-deception. It does violence to the language of moral condemnations of the encyclical and, as a principle of interpretive exegesis, will work no less havoc with other doctrinal teachings of the Church.

I. "Manifest mind and will" (Lumen Gentium, 25)

In conformity with these landmarks in the human and Christian vision of marriage, we must once again declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun, and above all, directly willed and procured abortion, even if for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as licit means of regulating birth.

Equally to be excluded, as the teaching authority of the Church has frequently declared, is direct sterilization, whether perpetual or temporary, whether of the man or of the woman. Similarly excluded is every action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, purposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible (14).

The language is so absolute and exclusionary as to fulfill every rigid requirement for a dogmatic and incontrovertible doctrinal teaching. There is no specific mention of the "pill" to avoid pregnancy but its proscription is undoubted. The malice of preventive contraception is underscored by equating its proscription with the moral condemnation of abortion. The all- comprehensive statement of Casti Connubii, "any use whatsoever of matrimony," which condemned at least coital contraception, and which Pope Pius XII explicitated to include postcoital defeat of the "natural consequences" of conjugal relations, now is elaborated to comprehend precoital preventive contraception, "in anticipation of the conjugal act." The spiritual malice of "the use of means directly contrary to fecundation" (16) is declared to be "intrinsically disorder," "intrinsically evil" (14), and "always illicit" (16). To construe these absolute, exclusionary moral propositions, however posited in a constellation of relevant considerations, into something less than doctrinal teaching is to do violence to "the manifest mind and will" of the Roman Pontiff.

II. "by virtue of the mandate entrusted to us by Christ" (H. V. 6)

It has been noted in some quarters that since the encyclical makes several references to the natural moral law, might not the faithful rightly raise epistemological questions which respectfully may challenge the intrinsic validity of the natural- law reasoning as embodied in the encyclical. But, reference to the natural moral law in Humanae Vitae is invariably conjoined with revelation, which, as we have already noted earlier, has also been true in the encyclicals of preceding Pontiffs. For example, "a teaching founded on the natural law, illuminated and enriched by divine revelation" (4), "human and Christian vision of marriage" (14), "the entire moral law, both natural and evangelical" (18), "natural and divine law" (23, 25), "the fullness of conjugal love" as illustrated by Christ's love for the Church (25), "to diminish in no way the saving teaching of Christ" (29), the "holiness of marriage, lived in its entire human and Christian fullness" (29), and so on. This conjunction of the natural moral law with the supernatural is not merely additive in the sense that in the present frail condition of mankind it is a morally necessary corrective to the discernments of reason alone of the exigencies of the natural law. The natural moral law is part of God's will for the salvation of mankind revealed through the Incarnate Word who designated Peter and the apostles and their successors to the end of time as guardians and authentic interpreters of all the moral law. The Church, then, may teach the requirements of the natural law with the assistance of Christian revelation authoritatively and provide the faithful with a more reliable moral doctrine than can be ascertained by unaided natural reason. This is not to deny that fallen man can by reason alone rationally demonstrate the existence of the natural law, nor to suggest that the Church is indifferent to the instructions of reason on the moral law. We are simply affirming that when the Church teaches authoritatively matters of natural morality, it does not do so as a master metaphysician any more than did Peter and the apostles. For centuries the faithful were guided by the authentic and authoritative teaching of the Church without benefit of philosophical systems and the science of theology, and until the Council of Nicaea, without solemn definitions. This is the profound significance of the repeated reference in Humanae Vitae to the Church's constant apostolic teaching through time. The validity of her teaching rests primarily on Christ's commission to her and on the abiding assistance of the Holy Spirit. The encyclical does make its appeal to reason, it discourses in part of the biological process, of demography, of the demoralizing consequences of contraceptive practices, of the nature of conjugal love. But the internal and external obedience of the faithful is directed to the doctrine propounded by reason "of the mandate entrusted by Christ" (6) to the Church. It is not dependent upon nor proportioned to the intrinsic merits of the encyclical as a philosophical argumentation, as a scientific treatise, as a sociological tract. Like his divine Master, the Vicar of Christ does make an appeal to reason (as well as to the Christian vision and the charismatic teaching authority of the Church). But also in the manner of his Lord, he too may teach, "Amen, amen, I say unto you. Thou shalt ... thou shalt not...."

Important distinctions

There is more impression than substance in pointing to the distinction between the infallibility of a solemn ex cathedra definition and the authentic and authoritative teaching of the Roman Pontiff. The insinuating argument is that what is not formally infallible is fallible. It supposes that infallibility may not derive from another source than a solemn ex cathedra definition. Church documents and the "theologians" themselves have traditionally acknowledged an infallibility ex ordinario magisterio. This means more than mere longevity but a continuing active and constant witness of the teaching authority of the Church to the general moral principle that opposes all contraceptive practices, the novelty being only its authoritative application to specific problems as they emerged in time. Further, who could honestly question the gravity and solemnity of the historical occasion for Humanae Vitae? The world-wide expectation of the papal pronouncement by the faithful and nonfaithful alike, the critical nature of the controversy, the largely predictable divisive consequences—all these attest to the awesome responsibility with which Pope Paul has spoken.

There was really no need for the formality of an ex cathedra definition. [7] The Roman Pontiff was giving witness to the constant teaching of the Church. The papal commission on birth regulation had been entrusted with the "gathering of opinions on the new questions regarding conjugal life" (5) but was devoid of all authority human or divine. Its majority report contained "certain criteria of solutions . . . which departed from the moral teaching on marriage proposed with constant firmness by the teaching authority of the Church" (6). The obligatory force of Humanae Vitae derives from the abiding assistance of the Holy Spirit which has through the centuries sustained the continuity of the Church's moral teaching on marriage and which Pope Paul, by virtue of the mandate entrusted to him by Christ, applied to the new question of the "pill." The faithful are bound to the doctrinal proposition affirmed, not to the persuasive cogency of the dialectical argumentation and collation of scientific evidences which may be brought to bear upon it. Fourteen years earlier, Pope Pius XII in his Allocution, Magnificate dominum, set this problematic into precise perspective:

Ex Cathedra force

Therefore, when it is a question of instructions and propositions which the properly established Shepherd (that is, the Roman Pontiff for the whole Church and the bishops for the faithful entrusted to them) publish on matters within the natural law, the faithful must not invoke that saying (which is wont to be employed with respect to opinions of individuals): "the strength of the authority is no more than the strength of the arguments." Hence, even though to someone certain declarations of the Church may not seem to be proved by the arguments put forward, his obligation to obey still remains. (AAS 46:672. Nov. 2, 1954).

The technical formality of an ex cathedra definition would not add to the intrinsic validity, that is, its certitude, and the obligatory force of Humanae Vitae. The magisterium of the Church is no less "put on the line" by its constant and universal ordinary teaching than by the solemnity of a formal definition. Surely, no one would suggest that the papal teaching authority was in abeyance in matters of faith and morals for almost four centuries prior to the solemn definitions of the Council of Nicaea. Numerically, the aggregate of defined dogmatic and moral theology is very small indeed in comparison with the great majority of things to be held by the faithful. To the best of my ability to ascertain from an examination of H. Denzinger: Enchiridion Symbolorum, the generality of philosophical truths which the faithful must hold are not solemnly defined unless, these verities are formally implied in revelational data. The doctrinal tenets of the spirituality of the soul, its immortality, the free will-these are formally implied in the Christian revelation of final judgment and eternal life. The proposition that human reason is capable of a natural theology to the extent at least that men may hold themselves morally accountable to God rests on St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, 1. One would indeed be hard put to find a moral doctrine of the Church that has been solemnly defined which rests wholly on rational grounds. The overwhelming number of solemn definitions whether ex cathedra or by a council in union with the Roman Pontiff are divine mysteries, those verities most removed from reason; the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Eucharist, the sacraments, the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption, and so on. Put into perspective, Humanae Vitae propounds a doctrinal teaching which is of the natural moral law, but whose certain discernment and unambiguous formulation derive principally from the abiding assistance of the Holy Spirit that has sustained the constant and universal teaching of the Church on the moral principles on marriage and on the unique charisma of the papal magisterium which has applied those moral principles to specific acts of conjugal relations. It is precisely on this motive primarily that Pope Paul calls upon priests to teach "without ambiguity" (n. 28) the Church's moral doctrine on marriage.

That obedience, as you know well, obliges not only because of the reasons adduced, but rather because of the light of the Holy Spirit, which is given in a particular way to the pastors of the Church in order that they may illustrate the truth (n. 28).

"Charity for souls"

(iii) "To diminish in no way the saving teaching of Christ constitutes an eminent form of charity for souls" (No. 29).

Unlike those who hold that the individual conscience and not the encyclical is the ultimate determinant of the morality of each conjugal act, the "mitigators" see in the pastoral directives of Humanae Vitae (III, 25, in particular) a diminution of the absolute ban on artificial birth regulation (especially II, 14). During the interlude of "study and reflection," a number of clerics told the faithful in advance what the forthcoming pronouncement of the Holy Father would teach. As a result many faithful were confused and others misled despite Pope Paul's repeated admonition not to ignore the traditional norms on marital relations which his predecessors Pope Pius XI and Pope Pius XII had authoritatively reaffirmed. The moral crisis within the Church was somewhat analogous to the situation that had obtained in sixteenth-century England when the pastors of the faithful led them out of, into, and again out of the Catholic Church, and then sat in judgment at the heresy trial of the flock that had trustingly followed their leadership. It is, then, with a keen sense of the tragic lessons of history and a profound compassion for the faithful who had been misled by the doctrinal confusion which in no small measure must be attributed to well-intentioned but ill-advised and premature predictions of the forthcoming papal pronouncement that Pope Paul encourages marital couples to repair frequently to the Sacrament of Penance and humbly by prayer and renewed effort disengage themselves from the binding hold of new-formed habits.

Let them implore divine assistance by persevering prayers; above all, let them draw from the source of grace and charity in the Eucharist. And if sin should still keep its hold over them, let them not be discouraged, but rather have recourse with humble perseverance to the mercy of God, which is poured forth in the sacrament of Penance (25).

This is no more nor less than the merciful pastoral and ascetical theology which Our Divine Lord manifested in His own conduct toward sinners and made memorable by His parables of the Good Shepherd, the Prodigal Son, the gathering of the wheat and cockle. The patient latitude of forgiveness is illustrated by His prayer, the Pater Noster, and the exhortation to forgive seventy times seven. Like his Divine Master, Pope Paul condemns sin in absolute terms and exhorts sinners with enduring patience and compassion not to be discouraged but to strive to repent and amend their lives. These pastoral directives set down by the Roman Pontiff are as applicable to the sins of habits of impurity, of habits of defamation of character, of thefts, of lying, of marital infidelity, and so on, as to the habits of artificial birth regulation.

To diminish in no way the saving teaching of Christ constitutes an eminent form of charity for souls. But this must ever be accompanied by patience and goodness, such as Our Lord Himself gave example of in dealing with men. Having come not to condemn but to save, He was intransigent with evil, but merciful toward individuals (29).

IV Theologians

Your first task—especially in the case of those who teach moral theology—is to expound the Church's teaching on marriage without ambiguity (28)

The Second Vatican Council has become a rallying point for the dissident clerics. The doctrinal formulation of episcopal collegiality (a doctrine whose status as a noninfallible teaching is no different from that of Humanae Vitae), is construed somehow to symbolize a democratization of the Church, at least to the extent that the Roman Pontiff ought to be the oracle of an ecclesial consensus contrary to the explicit reaffirmations of Lumen Gentium (esp. 22-25). The Roman Pontiff, it is said, should be guided by the findings of theologians. Also, much is made of the Council's several references to charisms which the Holy Spirit distributes as He wills to all the faithful. [8] To begin with, it was the Roman Pontiff and the Synod of bishops who signed the documents of the Council, not the theologians. Vatican II is revered, not as the teaching of theologians, but as the official and authoritative teaching of the ecclesial magisterium, the Pope and the bishops in union and agreement with him. Secondly, throughout Church history, the highest theological qualification attached by the theologians themselves to a prevailing position among them is opinio communis theologorum, consensus theologorum, at the lower levels of the scale of theological notes.

The Documents of Vatican II are remarkably silent about theologians. In discoursing passim about the office, powers, responsibilities, the role, and appropriate charisms for all the members of the Church, the Documents never refer to theologians as a distinct class by virtue of what they currently conceive to be their part in the magisterium of the Church. The Council Fathers speak of the Vicar of Christ, of his unique charisma and of the binding force of his official and authoritative teaching without any sine qua non dependency upon the approval or consent of others (Lumen Gentium, 22-25); of the validity of the teaching authority of the bishops only when they act in union and agreement with the Roman Pontiff (Ibid., 18-28); of the priests, and the laity. Not only are "theologians" never graced with a distinct classification, but the word itself rarely appears. There is one mention of the word in the Index (Abbott, op. cit., 790); and, subject to correction, I found it mentioned in the text of the Documents in one exceptional instance: "Furthermore, while adhering to the methods and requirements proper to theology, theologians are invited to seek continually for more suitable ways of communicating doctrine to men of their times." (Abbott, op. cit., 268) In none of the references but one listed in the Index under Theology are theologians mentioned. It is intriguing to observe that a universal Council of bishops, many of whom were accompanied by periti, never referred to "theologians," at least, surely, to eminent theologians as a separate group collectively designated to whom a special, however undefined, office of a particular deference, rights, or privileges, are ascribed by reason of their presumed or acknowledged expertise in theology. But there is no hint of any such apartness of theologians in the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church (Lumen Gentium), nor in the Pastoral Constitution On the Church (Gaudium et Spes), nor anywhere else. Let there be no misunderstanding of the direction of our discourse. We are simply pointing out that in the traditions and theology of the Catholic Church theologians are never set apart as a collective group with a particular office within the official and authoritative magisterium of the Church. Medievalists would hail their eminent theologians as angelicus, subtilis, seraphicus, yet of these St. Thomas wrote: "We must abide rather by the Pope's judgment than by the opinion of any of the theologians, however well-versed he may be in the divine scriptures" (Quodl. IX. Art. A, 16). "Against his authority, neither Jerome nor Augustine nor any other of the holy doctors defends his own personal views" (Summa, IIa, IIae). There is not the slightest supposition in the Documents that the Roman Pontiff in consulting whom he will must speak as the oracle of a consensus or be the accommodating agency of a correspondence between the ecclesia discens et docens. This very proposition was condemned by Pope Pius X's decree Lamentabili:

Truths are defined by a collaboration between the learning and teaching church such that the teaching church has no function other than ratifying the common opinings of the learning church. (In definiendis veritatibus ita collaborant discens et docens Ecclesia, ut docenti Ecclesiae nihil supersit, nisi communes discentis opinationes sancire) (Denzinger, op. cit., 2006).

By virtue, then, of what delegated authority or by reason of what divinely established office do the dissident clerics oppose the doctrinal teaching of Humanae Vitae and contrary to the absolute proscriptions of the encyclical and the Holy Father's repeated confirmations since its publication assert that it is not binding in conscience? It may be disconcerting to the pneumatic collegial dissidents to realize that they are not part of the magisterium of the Church, that they do not share in its teaching authority, nor may they with any authentic authority of their own offer the faithful an alternative of their own theological construction. The science of theology proper did not evolve for some centuries. The theologians' methodology is wholly a human enterprise, their learning, at best, a scholar's erudition, and in the absence of divine revelation to the contrary, not invested with any divine warrant against errancy. Their function is to teach, explain, defend, explore what the magisterium teaches. They are auxiliary forces in the service of the magisterium as becomes their high vocation. The Roman Pontiff is the Supreme Teacher, not a theologian among theologians, nor the supreme arbiter of contending theological schools of thought, nor the supreme executor of the majority report of a commission, nor the reconciler of opposing positions, nor the formulator of a doctrinal proposition that would adumbrate contrary moral decisions in the light of one and the same moral principle. He is not the recorder of a "total process" that gives expression to a prevailing consensus or to that communal congregationalist moral principle that each conscience is the final determinant of the morality of a specific act. The Roman Pontiff is the Vicar of Christ, and only of Christ, Our Lord. He is not the vicar of the universal Church, nor of any ecumenical council, nor of a group of bishops, nor of theologians. Perhaps in the realization that they are not a constitutive part of ecclesial teaching authority, the theologizing dissidents endeavor to downgrade the moral force of an encyclical by equating Humanae Vitae with the social encyclicals whose moral obligations upon the individual conscience seem not so compelling. To begin with, the value of a doctrinal teaching does not in any way depend upon its format, whether it be an encyclical, an allocution, a papal bull, a sermon, or a formal response to inquiries made by an ecclesiastical body, a metropolitan synod of bishops, for example. What is significant is the undoubted stated intent of the Holy Father to speak authoritatively on a matter of faith and morals to the universal Church as its supreme pastor and teacher, whatever the literary format and the particular occasion. The lean to non-infallible papal pronouncements is even for these dissidents a novel stratagem whose logical prolongation has already worked havoc on many Catholic doctrines in some quarters of the Church. Pope Pius XII took explicit cognizance of its implications and addressed himself directly to the issue:

Nor must it be thought that what is expounded in encyclical letters does not itself demand consent, on the pretext that in writing such letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their teaching authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: "He who heareth you, heareth Me"; and generally, what is expounded and inculcated in encyclical letters already, for other reasons, appertains to Catholic doctrine. But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on matters up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that the matter, according to the mind and will of the same Pontiffs, can no longer be considered a question of open controversy among theologians (quaestionem liberae inter theologos disceptationis iam haberi non posse) (Humani generis. AAS 42 [1950], 568).

And the Pope of aggiornamento, John XXIII, wrote in Mater et magistra, the encyclical so enthusiastically hailed by many of the present dissidents:

It is clear, however, that when the hierarchy has issued a precept or decision on a point at issue, Catholics are bound to obey their directives. The reason is that the Church has the right and obligation, not merely to guard the purity of ethical and religious principles but also to intervene authoritatively when there is question of judging the application of these principles to concrete cases (AAS 53 [1961] ,457).

The parallel between Humanae Vitae and the social encyclicals falters badly. The doctrinal teaching on the behavior to be observed by married couples specifically concerns particular acts of carnal relations. The moral obligations fall squarely upon, at most, two persons, the spouses. What is morally correct and what is condemned as moral evil is expressed in dogmatic, absolute, and exclusionary terms. Social encyclicals are addressed to social, political, and economic disorders. Their improvement involves a multitudinous number of moral agents-of the government, of public and private agencies, of the populace at large. The extent of cooperation and the degree of individual responsibility is unevenly distributed and diffused. Some of these problems of their very complex nature require not only a nation-wide collaborative effort but an international readjustment as well. The efficacy of the conscientious cooperator is so contingent upon a vast support that its fruition can be easily canceled. A parallel between Humanae Vitae and the social encyclicals that discloses more disparities than similitudes does not warrant an equation of moral obligatory force.

V Religious Freedom and the Personal Conscience

Religious freedom, in turn, which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. Therefore, it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ (Dignitatis humanae, 1).

Probably the most abused document of Vatican II is the Declaration of Religious Freedom (Dignitatis humanae) On the Right of the Person and of Communities to Social and Civil Freedom in Matters Religious.

The dignity of the human person (the first words of the Pontiff's statement) requires that men act "on their own judgment," with "responsible freedom," motivated by a sense of duty" and "not be driven by coercion." And to insure this immunity from coercion, "constitutional limits should be set to the powers of government, in order that there may be no encroachment on the rightful freedom of persons and of associations." This general proposition is then immediately made to bear upon those values most "proper to the human spirit" and principal among them is the "free exercise of religion in society," all the more so since God has made known to mankind the way in which men are to serve Him. And then suddenly, almost abruptly, Pope Paul identifies the one true religion.

We believe that this one true religion subsists in the Catholic and apostolic Church, to which the Lord Jesus committed the duty of spreading it abroad among all men....On their part all men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His Church, and to embrace the truth, come to know and to hold fast to it.

This sacred Synod likewise professes its belief that it is upon the human conscience that these obligations fall and exert their binding force. The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power.

Religious freedom, in turn, which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. Therefore it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.

"This Synod professes. . ."

Pope Paul identifies his statement with that of the Council: "First, this sacred Synod professes, . . . We believe. . . This sacred Synod likewise professes," and so on. The dignity of the human person derives from having been made in the image of God and redeemed by the Incarnate Word. The contrast is between coercion in civil society and a "responsible freedom" motivated by the "binding force" of "the moral duty" "to seek the truth" by which men are to worship and serve God. This moral imperative to seek out God's revelation is related specifically to the "one true religion" which "subsists in the Catholic and apostolic Church." The profound significance of Pope Paul's statement (and its implications for ecumenism) is further deepened by the fact that Dignitatis humanae is the only single conciliar document that is addressed to the whole world, to Catholics, to non-Catholic Christians, to non-Christians, to non-believers.

The Roman Pontiff's Declaration is followed by lengthier statements by the Council. The synod first considers religious freedom in the light of reason and declares it to be a right rooted in the very dignity of the human person and therefore inalienable. Certain observations are in order: nowhere does the vibrantly popular expression "freedom of conscience" appear. This calculated omission is consonant with the principal emphasis on the negative content to the right of religious freedom. All men are to be free from coercion "on the part of individuals, or of social groups, or of any human power" so that no one may be forced to act contrary to his own beliefs. This emphasis on the negative is correspondent to the repeated affirmations of the Council that all men are under the moral imperative to seek the ways of worship and salvation God has revealed to mankind. At no time in the Documents is the right to believe as one pleases ever affirmed. This bears significantly upon the Council's propositions on personal conscience, because both in the papal and episcopal Declarations on religious freedom the Catholic Church is explicitly pointed to as the Church which Christ established. For that reason, when the Council considers religious freedom in the light of revelation (9-15), the right of the Catholic Church to freedom, which she has in common with other churches, is declared to be unique because of the divine mandate conferred upon her by Christ Himself.

Among the things that concern the good of the Church and indeed the welfare of society here on earth--things therefore which are always and everywhere to be kept secure and defended against all injury-this certainly is pre-eminent, namely, that the Church should enjoy that full measure of freedom which her care for the salvation of men requires. This freedom is sacred, because the only-begotten Son endowed with it the Church which He purchased with His blood. It is so much the property of the Church that to act against it is to act against the will of God.... In human society and in the face of government, the Church claims freedom for herself in her character as a spiritual authority, established by Christ the Lord. Upon this authority there rests, by divine mandate, the duty of going out into the whole world and preaching the gospel to every creature (13)

It is therefore an obvious logical prolongation of the inalienable right of religious freedom in a Catholic for the Vatican Council to proceed directly in the next paragraph (14) to the proposition that the divinely established Church is the authoritative informant of the Catholic conscience not only in matters of Christian revelation but also in those matters concerning the natural moral law.

In the formation of their consciences, the Christian faithful ought carefully to attend to the sacred and certain doctrine of the Church. The Church, is, by the will of Christ, the teacher of truth. It is her duty to give utterance to, and authoritatively to teach, that Truth which is Christ Himself, and also to declare and confirm by her authority those principles of the moral order which have their origin in human nature itself (14).

In the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (<Gaudium et Spes>), the Council Fathers related its propositions on religious freedom and personal conscience to the moral responsibilities of parents in the procreation and education of children. While on the one hand it upheld the obligation as well as the right of parents to make the ultimate decision as properly becomes every free moral agent, it insisted on the other hand on the divinely endowed right of the Church to form that conscience by its authentic interpretation of the divine law.

Objective Standards

The parents themselves should ultimately make this judgment, in the sight of God. But in their manner of acting, spouses should be made aware that they cannot proceed arbitrarily. They must always be governed according to a conscience dutifully conformed to the divine law itself, and should be submissive toward the Church's teaching office, which authentically interprets the law in the light of the gospel (50).

Therefore when there is question of harmonizing conjugal love with the responsible transmission of life, the moral aspect of every procedure does not depend solely on sincere intentions or on an evaluation of motives. It must be determined by objective standards. These, based on the nature of the human person and his acts, preserve the full sense of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the content of true love. Such a goal cannot be achieved unless the virtue of conjugal chastity is sincerely practiced. Relying on these principles, sons of the Church may not undertake methods of regulating procreation which are found blameworthy by the teaching authority of the Church in its unfolding of the divine law (51).

It is difficult to find any support in the Documents of the Council that would warrant subordinating the Church's traditional and irreformable condemnation of contraception in all circumstances to overriding considerations of the individual conscience of a Catholic.

As we have already noted, the phrase "freedom of conscience" appears nowhere in the Council documents. This we take to be a calculated omission but hardly an evasion. The appeal to personal conscience may lead to opposing commitments. There is-the conscience of St. Stephen and those who stoned him to death (Acts 1:6, 7), of Henry II and St. Thomas a Becket, of Henry VIII and St. Thomas More, of Martin Luther and St. Ignatius Loyola. Freedom of conscience may also connote in the judgment of many reasonable and prudent men tragically perverse conduct like that of deviates and head-hunters. The generality of mankind acknowledges the profound gulf between objective truth and mere subjectivism, between moral right and wrong, between the true and the false. The problematic does not infrequently arise as to what is objectively true and false. But it is precisely here that Catholics, at least, have the benefit of the obligation to form a right conscience in keeping with the authentic teaching of the Church as expressed by the supreme teacher, the Vicar of Christ who is guided by the Holy Spirit. It is misleading to suggest that an incompatibility or dichotomy intervenes between a responsible freedom of conscience and the obligation inherent in that responsibility to abide by the authoritative pronouncements of the papal magisterium because in fact they are both gifts of God. The continuity of Christ in His vicars is primarily intended as the primary informant and corrective of the consciences of the faithful. Conscience is not the teacher of morality but the guide of personal choice, and not infrequently conscience may be its own accomplice rather than its guide. The criterion of a correct moral conscience is outside and superior to itself, namely, the moral law of God. This may be known by reason alone to some extent, by reason and revelation, or by a fallible reason confirmed into certitude by revelation. This certitude Catholics may have by the "teaching authority of the Church in its unfolding of the divine law" (Gaudium et Spes, 51). To admit that "conscience is always binding" is not to say that a man's judgment and choice of action are invested with objective moral rectitude. The objectively erroneous conscience firm in its personal sense of moral correctness may excuse from the gravity of moral culpability. But religious and civil authorities may and do contravene objectively erroneous consciences. Public law and local ecclesiastical authorities have opposed racial segregation as both immoral and illegal against those who protest their freedom to follow their consciences in racial relations. The woman at the well was quite content in her conscience with her generous distribution of affections to a number of husbands but Our Lord corrected her conscience and for this she went about glorifying God. Man is not a law unto himself nor wholly autonomous in formulating his moral judgments.

"True contradiction cannot exist"

The world-wide expectation of the forthcoming papal pronouncement, the gravity of the moral issue, the supreme apostolic authority which Pope Paul invokes in Humanae Vitae, the absolute and exclusionary terms in which the moral proscriptions are categorically stated, the appeal to the public authorities—"Do not allow the morality of your peoples to be degraded; do not permit by legal means practices contrary to the natural and divine law to be introduced into that fundamental cell, the family" (23)—the call upon men of science to demonstrate that "a true contradiction cannot exist between the divine laws pertaining to the transmission of life and those pertaining to the fostering of authentic conjugal love" (25), the appeal to priests and bishops to expound the Church's teaching on marriage "without ambiguity" (28)—all in all, in text and context, Humanae Vitae is a definitive doctrinal teaching binding in conscience.(9) Those who insist—only lately, on the occasion of the encyclical—on an ex cathedra definition would logically bring down crashing upon their heads much of the Church's moral and doctrinal teaching. At no time prior to Humanae Vitae did the dissident clerics set down that requirement for the "internal and external dissent" to papal teaching nor for any of the documents of Vatican II. Conscience is ultimate in the sense that personal responsibility for the course of action ultimately rests with it but it is never absolute in the sense that it can subordinate the authentic and authoritative interpretation of the divine moral order to its own superior determination of the morality of an act. Since the publication of the encyclical, Pope Paul has repeatedly reaffirmed its grave obligatory force upon individual consciences in the face of opposition to it and contrary to such interpretations as would attenuate it. [10]

Prophetic anticipation of revolt

Two months before the public release of Humanae Vitae, His Holiness, Pope Paul, spoke, it seems, with prophetic anticipation of the revolt against the ordinary magisterium:

There are many things in Catholic life that can be corrected and changed, many doctrines that can be more profoundly studied, integrated, and expressed in more intelligible terms, many regulations that can be simplified and better adapted to the needs of our time. But there are two things especially which cannot be made subjects of discussion: the truths of faith that have been authoritatively confirmed by tradition and by the <magisterium> of the Church, and the constitutional laws of the Church requiring obedience to the pastoral government which Christ established and which the Church has wisely developed and extended in the various members of the mystical and visible body of the Church for the guidance and strengthening of the multiform structures of the People of God.

Therefore: Renewal, yes-arbitrary change, no. The ever-new and living history of the Church, yes; a historicism which dissolves adherence to traditional dogma, no. Integration of theology according to the teaching of the Council, yes; a theology conformed to free subjective theories often derived from hostile forces, no.

A Church open to ecumenical charity, responsible dialogue and the acknowledgment of Christian values among our separated brethren, yes;--an irenicism which renounces the truths of faith or which tends to conform to certain negative principles that have favored the separation of so many Christian brethren from the Catholic communion, no.

Religious freedom for all within the framework of civil society, yes, as well as personal adherence to religion according to the considered decision of one's own conscience, yes; freedom of conscience as the criterion of religious truths without support from the authenticity of a serious and authorized teaching, no (AAS 60,328-329, June 28, 1968).

Whatever may be put forth as the complete explanation for opposition to the encyclical, Humanae Vitae, no part of it may rely upon the Documents of the Second Vatican Council.



1 All references to the official texts promulgated by the Twentieth Ecumenical Council are to Documents of Vatican II Ed. Walter Abbott, S. J. (America Press, 1966). All citations will be either to Abbott by pagination or to specific document and section number.

2 Cf. Abbott, op. cit., 98-101.

3 John T. Noonan, Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by Catholic Theologians and Canonists (Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1965), p. 512.

4 For the various theological notes ascribed to Casti Connubii, cf. Ford and Kelly, Contemporary Moral Theology (2 vols., Newman Press, 1964), Vol. II, 245-254. of particular interest is Noonan's own appraisal, op. cit., p. 428: "How great was that authority? By the ordinary tests used by theologians to determine whether a doctrine is infallibly proclaimed, it may he argued that the specific condemnation of contraceptive interruption of the procreative act is infallibly proclaimed. The encyclical is addressed to the universal Church. The Pope speaks in fulfillment of his apostolic office. He speaks for the Church. He speaks on moral doctrine that he says 'has been transmitted from the beginning.' He 'promulgates' the teaching. If the Pope did mean to use the full authority to speak ex cathedra on morals, which Vatican I recognized as his, what further language could he have used?"

5 cf. Ford and Lynch, "Contraception: A Matter of Practical Doubt?," Linacre Quarterly, August 1968, 159-171. For the opposing view, cf. "Notes On Moral Theology " Theological Studies, December 1968, 718-725, by Richard A. McCormick, S.J. cf. David Fitch, S.J., "Humanae Vitae and Reasonable Doubt," Homiletic and Pastoral Review, April 1969, Vol. LXIX, No. 7, pp. 516-523.

6 Cf. Pope Pius XII, Humani Generis: ". . . though absolutely speaking, human reason by its own force and light can arrive at a true and certain knowledge of the one personal God . . . and also of the natural law, which the Creator has written in our hearts, still there are not a few obstacles to prevent reason from making efficient and fruitful use of its natural ability. The truths that have to do with God and the relations between God and men completely surpass the sensible order and demand self-surrender and self-abnegation in order to be put into practice and to influence practical life. Now the human intellect, in gaining knowledge of such truths, is hampered both by the activity of the senses and the imagination, and by evil passions arising from original sin. Hence men easily persuade themselves in such matters that what they do not wish to believe is false or at least doubtful. It is for this reason that divine revelation must be considered morally necessary so that those religious and moral truths which are not of their nature beyond the reach of reason in the present condition of the human race may be known with a firm certainty and with freedom from all error" (AAS 42 [1950] , 561- 62).

7 In Church documents, the expression sedes Apostolica repeatedly appears to signify the supremacy of papal authority within the Church and when conjoined with <Petrus> and his successors, to signalize the unique and exclusive charism Of infallibility with which the Roman Pontiff is invested upon succeeding to the "chair". The Greek form, Cathedra (the teacher's chair), obtains its most notable context in the definition of papal infallibility by the Fathers of Vatican 1. The historical thrust of the 1870 phrase cum ex cathedra loquitur was to reject the separatism between sedes and sedens which the Gallicans of the 17th century employed to contend that the particular occupant of that supreme office shares in its unique prerogative of infallibility only in agreement with the Church—nisi Ecclesiae consensu accesserit (Denz. 1325). Both Vatican Councils repudiate that condition in identical terms—defitiones ex sese, non autem ex consensu Ecclesiae irreformabiles esse (Denz. 1839; Lumen Gentium, 25). It seems, at least for the time being, that some critics Of Humanae Vitae, while not formally resurrecting the Gallican consensual agreement, have fallen back to expect or even to require that condition for the authentic teaching authority of the Pontiff when he is not speaking ex cathedra by the more elaborate formula of the Modernists of a consensus theology between ecclesia docens et discens (cf. Denz. 2006 for its condemnation by Pope Pius X, Lamentabili, July 3, 1907).

8 Cavalier references are occasionally made to the charisms which the Holy Spirit distributes "among the faithful of every rank . . . for the renewal and upbuilding of the Church" (cf. Abbott, op. cit., 30, 492, 519, 613). These are no more nor less than the sufficiency of graces which God gives to all in order that each may do His will on earth according to the vocation to which he has been called, and they are appropriately called "special graces" by the Council. In addition, God gives "outstanding" or "extraordinary" charismatic gifts but of these the Council says that "Judgment as to their genuineness and proper use belongs to those who preside over the Church, and to whose special competence it belongs, not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to that which is good" (Lumen Gentium, 12). We know from the Pauline Epistles that the infant Church was blessed with ordinary charisms (Romans, 1:11; 5:15; 6:23) and with extraordinary charisms (1 Cor. 12:4 ff.). But St. Paul also wrote that all charisms are to be judged by the Church authorities (1 Thess. 5:12; 19-21). Unfortunately, some dissidents have tried to insert a dichotomy between the charisms of the congregation of believers and authority with an implied or openly asserted depreciation of the hierarchical institutional Church. It is very difficult to see how God would grant an extraordinary charism, of a special competence in faith and morals to one who is in open, formal disobedience to the solemn and authentic teaching of the supreme magisterium of His Church.

9 I am personally persuaded that the theological note of Humanae Vitae is infallibilis ex ordinario magisterio, irrevocabilis, irreformabilis as to its substantial immutability. Whatever addendum may yet possibly take place, as with Pope Pius XII's and Pope Paul's explicitation of postcoital and precoital contraception, which they judged to have been immanent in the moral condemnations of Casti Connubii, such an addendum whatever that may conceivably be-will leave the doctrine affirmed substantially immutable. It is in this sense that I call it irreformable. It is not infallible by an ex cathedra definition, a sort of definition which is generally prompted by extrinsic reasons, but which by itself adds nothing intrinsically to the validity of the truth affirmed. Humanae Vitae is a definitive teaching. It condemns contraception as intrinsically evil in absolute and exclusionary terms. The infallibility of the ordinary magisterium is scarcely a record of longevity but rather an active enduring and universal witness to a constant dogmatic and pastoral teaching of the authoritative teachers of the Church, the Roman Pontiff and bishops in union and agreement with him. Humanae Vitae is a solemn teaching-except to the dissidents-based on apostolic authority which Pope Paul invokes.

10 Cf. Pope Paul's Address to the General Audience at Castel Gandolfo, July 31, 1968. And on August 4: "Once again we remind you that the ruling We have reaffirmed is not Our own. It originates from the very structure of life and love and human dignity, and is thus derived from the law of God. It does not ignore the sociological and demographic conditions of our time. Contrary to what some seem to suppose, it is not in itself opposed to the rational limitation of births. It is not opposed to scientific research and therapeutic treatment, and still less to truly responsible parenthood. It does not even conflict with family peace and harmony. It is just a moral law demanding and austere-which is still binding today. It forbids the use of means which are directed against procreation and which thus degrade the purity of love and the purpose of married life."

Note too Monsignor Lambruschini's commentary to Associated Press, Osservatore Romano, August 8, 1968: "The decision has been given and it is not infallible. But it does not leave the question of the regulation of birth in a state of vague uncertainty. Only definitions strictly so called command the assent of theological faith. But a pronouncement of the authentic Magisterium requires full and loyal assent—internal and not merely external—in proportion to the importance of the Authority that issues it (in this case the Supreme Pontiff), and the matter with which it deals (in the present case a matter of the greatest importance, treating as it does of the vexed question of the regulation of birth). This decision binds the consciences of all without any ambiguity. In particular, it can and must be said that the authentic pronouncement contained in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae excludes the possibility of a probable opinion, valid on the moral plane, opposed to this teaching—and that notwithstanding the number and the authority (hierarchical, scientific and theological) of those who have in recent years maintained that it is possible to have such a probable opinion. The pretext of the presumed doubt in the Church owing to the long silence of the Pope is not consistent, and conflicts with the repeated appeals of the Pope and Council to abide by the previous directives of the Magisterium which were still binding. All those who have in recent years incautiously taught that it is lawful to use artificial contraceptives to regulate births and have acted accordingly in their pastoral guidance and in the ministry of the confessional, must now change their attitude and set an example by their full acceptance of the teaching of the Encyclical. This is not a case of servility to be shunned, but rather one of essential loyalty and consistency in the profession of Catholic doctrine and in the practice of the Christian life . . . " (italics supplied).

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
13 August 1970

L'Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See.
The Weekly Edition in English is published for the US by:

The Cathedral Foundation
L'Osservatore Romano English Edition
320 Cathedral St.
Baltimore, MD 21201
Subscriptions: (410) 547-5315
Fax: (410) 332-1069