There are times when God calls the most unlikely of us to perform His Will that we marvel at how nigh impossible it is for us to do things on our own. Look no further than one of the most improbable cases in history, a gentleman named Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini.
To understand Giovanni’s influences during his early life, his father was a lawyer, journalist, director of Catholic Action, and at one time a member of the Italian parliament. His mother was an influential leader within the circles of Catholic women in the community. His one brother took up some of the “family business” and became a lawyer and politician in his own right, while his second brother became a physician. After a series of illnesses interrupted Giovanni’s education, it should surprise no one that after Giovanni entered the seminary and was ordained into the priesthood, he obtained a doctorate in Canon Law. Soon thereafter he helped found a publishing house which helped promote Christian ideals, and eventually started working in the Vatican’s State department. In essence, he followed in his father’s footsteps in nearly all fronts.
After a career in the Roman Curia, he became a Cardinal, then eventually became the Vicar of Christ – taking the name of Pope Paul VI. From the onset, his background in law became apparent; his passion project was the revision of the Code of Canon Law, which was eventually ratified in 1983. He also re-convoked the Second Vatican Council (which previously ended prematurely due to the death of St. John XXIII), and promulgated a new Missal. A staggering amount of work for one man, any one of these things could be seen as an accomplishment. But there is one thing which Paul VI did which surpasses all of that, which transformed him into something greater than he ordinarily was.
There was a shift within society that started in the 1930’s, when the Episcopalian (aka the Church of England/Anglican Church) formally allowed and approved the use of artificial birth control. Gradually, it became more and more accepted by Christian denominations, up until the “Sexual Revolution” where it became wildly encouraged and celebrated by society as a whole. The key to sexual freedom it was touted as, a true liberator of women. It promised the joys of consequence free sex, of people being able to embrace their sexual side. There was but one organization within the mainstream Christian circles who had yet to make an official proclamation, and everyone was expecting them to get in line and embrace this new way of living, the new order of thought. The media reported that things were all but a done deal that this organization would approve artificial contraceptives. Officials within the organization, including those in positions of power, were confident that things would change and that a statement condoning artificial birth control would be made. People from within the organization and outside of it placed enormous pressure on the leader, constantly telling him he *had* to change the “rules”, that he *had* to make the organization more “relevant”.
What all of those people failed to take into account was that the guardianship and protection of the Holy Spirit is always protecting the Church from doctrinal error, ensuring doctrinal consistency (Matthew 16:18). They failed to take into account that Paul VI had always listened to the Will of God, and always wanted to please God by doing His divine Will. Why else would he become a priest, when he obviously could have had everyone most would have wanted? Think about it; he was obviously very gifted academically, highly intelligent. His family wielding a lot of power and influence, his father alone could have given him a prominent position to start with, let alone his mother and brother. He could have had riches, fame, power, material goods. He definitely could have found a bride, I imagine. Everything anyone could dream of would have been within his grasp. He gave up all of that, sacrificed his future, to become a priest without knowing where life would lead him.
That sacrifice, in my opinion, gave him the strength to be a vessel for the Holy Spirit. To allow God to work through him, and allow Paul VI to safeguard the Church. To be God’s messenger during this time of societal upheaval, to give him the strength as he would become the face of the last bastion of doctrinal consistency. Where, in 1968, he would publish something that would cause a worldwide firestorm, having him become something greater than a lawyer or a bureaucrat in the State department.
To say that Humanae Vitae was a landmark is an understatement. From what I can see, everyone at the time either feared the Church would change, or desired the Church to change. No one expected a document that reinforced Church teaching so adamantly, that a Pope who barely finished school due to illness would have the stomach to stand firm.
But it wasn’t just the firm affirmation of Church teaching which makes Humanae Vitae what it is, but the warnings that came with it. Blessed Pope Paul VI, along with stating unequivocally that the Church would not change Her stance on artificial contraceptives, also listed several consequences of embracing artificial contraceptives, of which our current society has been dealing with the aftermath.
There was a few points that Paul VI brought up in Humanae Vitae, some of which are listed below:
1) Widespread acceptance of contraception by couples would lead to imposition of contraception by unscrupulous governments.
A very recent development within North America; the Affordable Healthcare Act in the USA is attempting to force Catholic groups to provide coverage on artificial birth control, despite that the Catholic Church is in direct opposition to artificial birth control. As of this post, the current presidential administration within the USA has made it clear that foreign aid could be withheld for ideological reasons, it isn’t a stretch to say that population control activities may be among said policies at some point.
2) Economic and educational situations making it more difficult to provide for a large family.
I think this is one area where all sides can agree; the USA provides 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave, everything else is up to the private corporations where people work. Hardly ideal to start a family. Personally, I think it would be better to provide better maternity/paternity leave/benefits, rather than advocate putting off having children or promoting birth control as a means to solve this problem.
3) Contraception would lead to conjugal infidelity.
It was in the news recently that a website (which I obviously won’t post a link to) that was specifically devoted to married individuals being able to set up secret meetings to have an affair had their database hacked, leading to several people being frantically concerned that their spouses would find out about their secret proclivities. Lost in the mist of the reporting is that it’s a greater concern that such a website exists in the first place.
4) Contraception would lead men to cease respecting woman in their totality and would cause them to treat women as “mere instruments of selfish enjoyment” rather than as cherished partners.
5) Mankind trying to exert complete control over all aspects of their own life, emotions, body, mind.
And this is where we reach the crux of Humanae Vitae. The totality of objectification of the flesh. Men treating women as nothing more than commodities, as objects solely for their own physical pleasure. And the desire to remove any and all consequences from temporal actions. “Consequences” is an apt word, in large part because the mentality artificial contraception promotes is living a consequence free lifestyle. If one doesn’t need to worry about long-term ramifications, why bother being concerned? When it comes to sexual activity, we’re seeing this mentality with regularity. The prevention and education on STI’s, the active removal of the ability to conceive – the end goal is to divorce everything from sex except for pleasure. Something as natural and Darwinistic as the procreative act being removed from a species through *choice* is something that leaves me shaking my head at times.
And the thing is, men and women celebrate this. They revel in the alleged freedom gained from the outright removal of any ramifications to their choices. In the process, both women and men are broken down into nothing more than an instrument of pleasure, using someone explicitly as an object that isn’t even human.
The devaluing of human life, with human beings being treated as nothing more than commodities. We’ve seen this come to light in recent videos that have surfaced about Planned Parenthood selling fetal tissue from aborted unborn children. There are some that defend Planned Parenthood, saying that t5he videos are “selectively edited” and are misleading others.
A) The group that made the videos are releasing the uncut versions for everyone to see.
B) You cannot deny the fact that they are referring to human body parts in those videos. If those are not humans yet, what species are they?
C) To date some videos are referring to the body parts of these unborn children as “line items”, nothing more than assets to be delivered.
It’s all quite gruesome, really. Some people don’t like to think about it, which of course lends itself more towards the objectification of human beings – it’s hard to think of someone as a person when you don’t put a face or a name to something, which makes it easier to not attach life or humanity to someone. Which is why some pro-life activists utilize graphic images which display aborted children in large posters. Myself personally, I’m not a fan of the practice, as it brings painful memories of our miscarriage. But I understand why they do it, and I think in the proper context, time, and place that it is something that can be used to prove a point.
The next question some may have is why abortion is being mentioned at all when Humanae Vitae refers mostly to contraceptives. It’s because abortion isn’t just a form of birth control (and treated as a form of “retroactive contraceptive”), it’s a direct consequence of the widespread use of artificial contraceptives. When people say “if there was readily more birth control, there would be less demand for abortions”, it’s a flawed premise – all of the reasons people give for artificial contraception are applicable to abortion (this isn’t accounting for the abortifacient nature of some birth control where a fertilized egg cannot attach itself, either). With mankind seeking to remove the consequences from sex, there has to be a final way to remove any sign that isn’t instant gratification. There must be a final solution when all else fails. All of these things make things awkward for Christians who profess to be against abortion, but for birth control.
I understand that, as a man, I am placed in a position where I cannot carry a child myself. Other than that having my opinion be discounted due to my sex is quite sexist, men should be permitted to have an opinion on birth control and abortion because we’re a part of the problem. Men have just as much culpability in all of this. Its men who also promote the disposable culture we live in, its men who fuel the “need” for abortions on demand because they refuse to support the mother and child. Its men who largely fuel the pornography industry by objectifying women, using images of women to satiate their sexual appetites. Its men who leave women feeling that they are left no recourse because they are being deadbeats. As such, men need to step up to the plate and do everything in their power to make abortion not be considered an option.
Of course, the next line of thinking we approach is why are men like this? A portion of it is due to what is celebrated by society. Society celebrates pleasure above all, and directs all of this in an assault on men’s senses. Explain how attractive women have anything to do with beer, sports, or anything else of that nature? You can’t, really. They’re there to appeal to a man’s eyes, his sexual desires, his imagination, his carnal wishes. Why should we not expect men to treat women as disposable when they’ve been hoisted up as objects to satisfy him?
When you add all of the things I have mentioned together, you end up with something along the lines of “contraceptive practice would lead to a general lowering of morality”, something that Paul VI explicitly mentions. Which is why I often call him “The Unlikeliest Prophet”. How exactly could a career bureaucrat with a law background have had this kind of foresight? Only through being a vessel of the Holy Spirit, being the safeguard of the Truth.
So how to move forward with Humanae Vitae (and its principles), today? Encouraging one another to respect the dignity of human life, for one. Having an active and objective conversation on when human life actually begins. Focusing on the bioethics of the situation, such as if unlimited choice is required, is it permissible to abort based off of the sex of the child (sexism) or race (racism)? Look at the scientifically proven methods of natural family planning and promote their use. Keep your senses sensible, avoid falling into the pitfalls of self-gratification. Refuse to objectify others, treat anyone you lay eyes on as a human being with dignity.
And finally, be like Paul VI. He chose the name Paul because he wanted to renew the mission to spread the Gospel across the whole world (like the original St. Paul, natch). We can take up this call and spread the Gospel message of life across the world.
Because at the present time we live in the dictatorship of relativism. And the issues that Humanae Vitae speaks of, it’s the pinnacle of relativism, where even human life itself is subjective; with no definitive start to the beginning of one’s life. From conception till death, life matters less.
Brilliant post. I’ve always liked Paul VI for his association with Humanae Vitae, but never knew about his life prior to becoming Pope. Thanks!
Thank you! It puts the entire document and his papacy in an extraordinary light when you consider his background. JP2 you would expect this from, he studied sexual ethics and bioethics for some time. But Paul VI? Nope. Makes it all the more poignant.
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