Humanae Vitae’s Challenge to Modernity

Crisis Magazine | 7/25/2018 | John M. Grondelski
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July 25, 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Humanae Vitae (HV). That encyclical, and its subsequent contestation in certain “Catholic” circles, has been a defining moment of the past half-century.

The central teaching of HV (#12) is that there is an “inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.”

Challenges - Elements - Modernity

That teaching challenges several elements of modernity:

First, there is a dispute over the meaning of creation. God’s creation is more than a statement of fact; it is an expression of values. God is not just an indifferent clockmaker but God “and Father.” His created order is more than just an expression of Ultimate Will; it is also of Ultimate Intellect and Ultimate Love.

Reality - Determinism - Facticity - Person - Being—is

To acknowledge this reality is not to be subject to “biological determinism” or “biological facticity.” It is to acknowledge that creation—including the human person as a bodily-spiritual being—is suffused with meaning which man, as an intellectual creature can discover, but of which he is not the author, much less a re-designer.

If meaning is “inherent,” it means that God’s creation is full of meaning. Creation is not a blank canvas that man, with his limited intellect, is free to fill. Meaning is recognized, not created, by the viewer.

Understanding - Value - Creation - Implications - Faulty

This understanding of the preexistent value of creation has huge implications for both an authentic and a faulty understanding of conscience. Conscience is a mirror that reflects the moral order God created, not an invention that sews moral value out of whole cloth. The false notions of conscience pedaled in the wake of HV depend on this apotheosis of conscience.

Second, there is a dispute over the meaning of life. Procreation refers to the value of life. It is not...
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