Tuesday, August 19, 2008

On the Infallibility of Humanae Vitae

According to Catholic theology, a teaching of the "ordinary and universal magisterium" is also considered infallible if it is taught by all bishops dispersed throughout the world, as long as they all teach it in a definitive and authoritative manner - "in unity among themselves and with Peter's successor" (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium # 25).

The Church's teaching against contraception provides a case in point. Throughout the whole history of the Church, it has been been clear and constant in its position on contraception. In fact, all Christian churches were united in their opposition to contraception until as recently as the early decades of the 20th century. It was not until 1930 that the Anglican Church went on record as saying that contraception was permissible, for grave reasons, within marriage. It was also at this time that Pope Pius XI issued the encyclical Casti Connubii, in which he reiterated what has been the constant teaching of the Catholic Church: Contraception is intrinsically wrong.

The first clamoring for change appeared in the late 1950s and early 1960s with the widespread availability of the birth control pill. Some Catholic theologians began to think that the pill might be a legitimate form of birth control for Catholics because, unlike other kinds of birth control, it did not break the integrity of the sexual act. Amidst such controversy, the landmark encyclical Humane Vitae was released by Pope Paul VI in 1968. It clearly defined the intrinsic evil of contraception and even provided prophetic views that has since materialized. Subsequently, Pope John Paul II affirms Humane Vitae with "Evangelium Vitae" and "Theology of the Body". On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, Pope Benedict XVI states: "The truth expressed in Humanae Vitae does not change. Quite the contrary, in the light of new scientific discoveries, its teaching becomes more relevant and stimulates reflection on the intrinsic values it possesses."

Humane Vitae was not pronounced ex-cathedra, there was no need as the teaching contained in Humane Vitae has been constant and unchanging throughout the history of the Church. Due to this, it is infallible and thus, irreformable. People may have contrary opinions, but they remain just that - opinions. Truth never changes. It may be difficult to follow, but that is really the way with much of our faith --- forgive 70 x 7 times; turn the other cheek; love one another. It is only with God's grace that we do not find our faith difficult to accept and follow, and then it becomes a joyful way of life - and we become at peace.

No comments: