In March, 1963, shortly before his death, Pope John XXIII formed a special commission of experts and married couples to examine questions of the correct regulation of births by married couples, prompted by such developments as the invention of the contraceptive pill. Taking into account the opinions of this commission and of bishops, experts, and others from throughout the world, Pope Paul VI wrote this encyclical. Addressed not only to Catholic clergy but also to all people, Humanae Vitae was meant to give a definitive answer to questions of married love and human procreation.
Humanae Vitae, although dealing with profound and controversial questions, is a succinct and serene document, organized into three sections. The first section introduces the questions of birth control raised by modern times and the competency of the Catholic Church and the pope to answer them. The second section presents these answers in a doctrinal fashion, drawing on sacred Scripture and Catholic tradition, especially the recently completed Second Vatican Council of the Catholic Church (1962-1965). The third and final section consists of the pope’s pastoral directives to scientists, public authorities, married couples, bishops, priests, and others.
Pope Paul begins this encyclical by asserting the authority of the Catholic Church and his authority as pope to interpret the moral teaching on marriage based on natural reason and divine revelation. By the natural law, Paul is referring to the whole moral law, which God has inscribed in the human heart, and which can be ascertained by reason. It is illumined and deepened by the Gospel but remains binding on all peoples and cultures. The question of transmission of life depends on a correct understanding of this natural law as it relates to married love. Marriage is divinely instituted and between Christians constitutes a sacramental sign of grace. Love within marriage is total, faithful, exclusive, and constituted until death. It is also fruitful in...
(The entire section is 824 words.)