Humanae Vitae 17a: Consequences of Artificial Methods

sperm and eggHumanae Vitae is online at the Vatican site, and the text highlighted below is © Copyright – Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Pope Paul outlines some worries in this section. We’ll split up concerns about possible consequences of artificial contraception into two posts.

17. Responsible (people) can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law.

Borrowing a principle from how the Church has addressed contrition after the sin, a “perfect” moral choice would involve acting with a desire for virtue or to aspire and achieve union with God. Fear of consequences strikes me as an “imperfect” motivation.

Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

And of course, we know that women also use men as sexual objects. Even a half-century ago, it could have been acknowledged that imperfect people of both sexes can and did use partners in ways less than absolutely virtuous.

To elaborate on the point a bit, it seems the problem is the exaltation of sexual intercourse as an end to itself, rather than as a means to show love to a partner. Perhaps the Church could look a bit more intently at a distinction between practices that exalt sexual expression at the expense of people–promiscuity; practices that damage or destroy a committed union–unfaithfulness; practices that actually express a committed and well-intentioned love–sex between engaged partners. The Church sees all of these as sinful, but discerning human beings recognize significantly different qualities in each of these.

Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.

And we know this has happened, and continues to happen in some nations where personal freedoms are not recognized or respected.

The way I see this section, real damage occurs when the marital sexual relationship is overcome or overwhelmed when there is some transfer to the realm of power and domination. That would be, in part, the modern feminist critique. But it is also the lament of the Lord, that people are used by those more powerful and controlling.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Humanae Vitae. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Humanae Vitae 17a: Consequences of Artificial Methods

  1. Chris Sullivan says:

    “To elaborate on the point a bit, it seems the problem is the exaltation of sexual intercourse as an end to itself, rather than as a means to show love to a partner. ”

    This is a very perceptive comment.

    Perhaps it also applies to HV itself; a fixation on the mechanics of the act, to the detriment of the wider context of martial sex as an expression of love.

    God Bless

  2. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

    I find this argument very unconvincing. The argument is that the use of contraception leads men to use women and the non use of contraception leads men to respect women. Indeed, many supporters argue that a societal rejection of contraceptives would raise the status of women in our society.

    However, the Muslim world remains committed to large families and has not readily embraced the use of contraception. Do they respect women as a result? Hardly. Rape, honor killings, coerced child marriages, denial of the right to an education, and many other abuses are the norm in many parts of the Muslim world. If anything, the evidence shows that the rejection of contraceptives leads to a horrific mistreatment of women.

    Now to be clear, I do not actually believe that rejecting contraceptives causes men to chop off women’s noses and throw acid at women’s faces. (Both of these acts have taken place in the Muslim world.) However, rejection of contraceptives clearly does not prevent it either.

  3. FrMichael says:

    Muslim “rejection” of contraceptives is hardly universal. Turkey has been well-known for contraceptive practices since the late 18th century. Indonesia and Malaysia don’t pose a lot of resistance to contraception. India, home to a massive number of Muslims, is a huge promoter.

    Meanwhile, the Western historically-Christian countries have seen a general lowering of moral standards and a rise in contempt for women just as Paul VI warned. He was criticized for being an old out-of-touch prelate in his time, but tell you what, from our vantage point over 40 years later, his 1968 description of the brave new world was far more accurate than his opponents.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s