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Pope Saint Paul VI is the author of the great, prophetic encyclical condemning artificial contraception, Humanae Vitae.The following excerpts are taken from a longer article published in the online news magazine, The Catholic World Report, on 23 May 2018, about the prophetic encyclical written by Pope Saint Paul VI, dated 25 July 1968. Humanae Vitae is Latin for “On Human Life.”

Moral Permissiveness 

Pope Paul VI stood firm in the midst of the moral permissiveness which came under the guise of “freedom” in the 1960s, and boldly proclaimed the truth of married love. Pope Paul VI was raised to the altars as a saint in 2018, the year which marked the 50th anniversary of what Pope Paul is perhaps best known for — his controversial encyclical Humanae Vitae.

This significant document reaffirms the Church’s condemnation of artificial “birth control”— a misnamed concept, because as G.K. Chesterton cleverly puts it, “what is quaintly called Birth Control… is in fact, of course, a scheme for preventing birth in order to escape control.” (The Well and the Shallows, in volume 3 of The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton, Ignatius Press)

Not only is this encyclical clarifying, it has proven to be prophetic. The world did not listen to Pope Paul in 1968, and the stark warnings he gave about what the widespread acceptance of contraception would mean for society have all come to pass. And now, a half-century later, the world no longer remembers what he even said in the first place. We would do well to honor the memory of this new saint by recalling and boldly proclaim his oft-neglected message on the nature, purpose, and dignity of married love.

Prophecies of Humanae Vitae

In Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI asserts that the widespread use of contraception would “lead to conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality.” No one can deny that 50 years later there has been a sweeping decline in morality throughout the world. The vast increases in divorce and children born out of wedlock, the tragedy of abortion being procured on a horrifying scale, and the perversion that pervades contemporary popular culture all testify to this fact.

The encyclical also foretold how the use of contraception would be detrimental to conjugal love. Pope Paul argued that contraception would ultimately lead to a loss of respect for the woman, where “her physical and psychological equilibrium” would no longer be cared for as she would be considered “a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment and no longer as (her husband’s) respected and beloved companion.”

All persons have an innate dignity as beings created in the image and likeness of God. The Church’s teaching that the use of artificial contraception is an intrinsic evil that can never be accepted is designed, in part, to protect this understanding of the dignity of the human person. That dignity is violated when spouses use each other’s bodies as mere objects for their own gratification by obstructing the natural end of their sexual union. By this act, they display a lack of commitment and authentic love for one another and frustrate the ultimate purposes of their marital union, which are their mutual good and bringing children into the world.

Pope Paul also warned that the widespread acceptance and even celebration of contraception would place a “dangerous weapon… in the hands of those public authorities who take no heed of moral exigencies.” This has certainly come to pass as the prevailing wisdom identifies overpopulation as the primary cause of poverty. As a result, it is the policy of many governments to control population growth through “family-planning programs.”

What this means, of course, is the widespread distribution of contraceptives, opportunities for sterilization procedures, and abortion (even forced abortions, in the case of China). Countries implementing birth control practices are given preferential access to resources from first-world governments and charitable agencies, forcing the Catholic poor into the indignity of exchanging their consciences for money. Contrary to the prevailing wisdom, the plain truth is that there is an actual problem of under-population in the West. Most Western nations have a birthrate that is under 2.1, which is not enough to sustain a given society.

The final warning of this prophetic document was that contraception would lead man to think he has unlimited dominion over his own body. God’s will has been replaced with the selfish desire of the individual. Many go so far as to alter their own physical make-up by undergoing sterilization procedures. The emergence of the practice of in vitro fertilization and the transgender movement are not at all unrelated to this. In each of those cases, God’s dominion over the natural order is obstructed to suit one’s own desire. 

Message of Humanae Vitae

Today, the most transient and material things of this world — clothes, cars, expensive vacations — are more desired than the joy of children. Our secular world has forgotten God and the greatest blessing he gives to any family — new life.

Pope Paul VI stood firm in the midst of the moral permissiveness which came under the guise of “freedom” in the 1960s and boldly proclaimed the truth of married love. But his message was a like a voice crying out in the wilderness. It is the cause of great controversy, and is despised and rejected. But what, ultimately, is the message of Humanae Vitae?

Put very briefly: The long and uncomplicated tradition of a man and a woman falling in love, getting married, and having children is a good thing. That the family is the most important unit of society. And that the natural order of all this should be respected. That this should be the subject of controversy shows how society has lost its way. May the message of Pope Saint Paul VI, in Humanae Vitae, help us to find it again.


Father Seán Connolly, author of this article, is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York. He currently serves as parochial vicar at Immaculate Conception and Assumption of Our Lady Parish in Tuckahoe, New York.

The original article was published in The Catholic World

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