Wow, 40 years since the landing on the lunar surface by Apollo 11 & 41 years since Paul VI stunned the world with Humanae Vitae. The document (below) deserves another read by Catholics and all peoples of good will and a prayerful reflection on its long ranging effects and insights.
Despite the fact that I missed the actual date to write about the document’s anniversary, mea culpa for 3 days.
The document Humanae Vitae grows more prophetic and inspirational with it’s age and the developments of modern scientific developments. While mainly written as an admonition against artificial methods of artificial birth control, Humanae Vitae provides a pastoral guidance to the moral issues of determining life and preserving it’s absolute sanctity.
Medical developments and empirical testing since 1968 has clearly provided the distinctive evidence to prove that human life indeed begins at the moment of conception. Yet, strangely, we are still debating this point of contention many many years after Humanae Vitae and even more ironically since the infamous Roe versus Wade decision of the United States Supreme Court.We have had 3 popes since the pontificate of Paul VI and each one has reaffirmed and reiterated the seemingly dogmatic and inspired teachings contained in the document without any hesitation. Unfortunately, the document itself doesn’t seem to be part of parochial instruction or catechetical instructions as often as it should. Often, Humanae Vitae is viewed as a quaint document that was a result of the inception of the birth control pill.
In reflection though the document reveals a far deeper concern for the human spirit that transcends scientific and temporal limitations.
Humanae Vitae is remarkably timeless in its inspirational message and cautionary admonitions on the misuse of scientific innovations. In hindsight, the direction that Paul VI decided to reaffirm for the Catholic Church in the turmoil of the 1960′s was the foundational siren that warned against increasing secular humanism and globalization without regards to the human spirit or the dignity of the human person. The document therefore should be appreciated as one that transformed the Church of 1968 into one that fully realized the implications of empirical disregard for the deepest appreciations of the sanctity and dignity of human life. Today the issues of artificial insemination and artificial birth control are quaintly considered as minor issues with the rise of genetic manipulation, DNA sequencing and other 21st century innovations that are perhaps leading to a human being of boutique or designer origins. The post Second World War horror in discovering the medical experiments of the Third Reich are pale in comparison to the molecular and cellular extent of modern scientific abilities. However, Humanae Vitae provides for a integral harmony to exist between science and nature, life and death, illness and health as well as a mutual coexistence between the human and the divine.
When studying Humanae Vitae in college and graduate school theology classes in the 1970sand 1980s my academic perspective was still too close to the publication of this great document. Chronologically, my age was a detriment as well in a deeper understanding of the teachings proclaimed in this seminal document as well. Now with 40 years worth of life experiences behind me and as married person with a daughter the document now holds remarkable significance and meaning.
My overall inclination is that Humanae Vitae should be reexamined and reexplored as the most significant teachings on human life to emerge from the 20th century. It is a prophetic document that rightly is considered the cornerstone of the Catholic Church’s teaching on human life and its essential dignity.
Additionally, Humanae Vitae transcends the period of the 1960s and offers counsel and advice to future generations that effect global concerns of human procreation, sanctity of life and theological harmony with future scientific discoveries. While the document was not heralded as a great document at the time of its release bu secular sources, Humanae Vitae has proved it’s meaning and message is a resounding and resilient testimony to the keen perceptions of Paul VI in his ministry and teachings. Much has been said of the pontificate of Paul VI. The more I prayerfully reflect on his ministry and message; it is apparent that he should have the title of Paul the Great because he was the instrument that transformed the post-Reformation Catholic Church into a truly global, universal and cosmologically transcendent institution that promotes and advocates the sanctity of human life on a universal level that transcends temporal and geographical limitations.
Additionally, as with Paul VI the pontificates of John-Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI reflect the transformation of the world order towards the message of the Gospels. John Paul’s sensitive and mysterious teachings on the body and his personal representation of human shortcomings in his later years illustrate the opposite and logical conclusion to human life so celebrated in the conceptual appreciation of Humanae Vitae. Life from conception to natural death is sacred. In the same vein, Benedict XVI in his pastoral teachings and most recently in Charity in Truth clearly advocates a harmony between human life and global existence that should have first priority among all peoples before personal accomplishment and secular accumulation of wealth and objects.
It appears Humanae Vitae is unfolding as the sacred touchstone to all of the pastoral teachings on human life, purpose and dignity that have evolved since the first stirrings of this monumental document. Paul VI caused a revolution with Humanae Vitae and that revolution continues as the People of God develop a more cognitive understanding of our global interdependence as human beings and common stewarts of the planetary resources.
Read Humanae Vitae again for the truly sensitive and remarkable document it continues to be…not just for its in se doctrinal teachings, but for the beauty of its cosmological vision of life beyond 1968 and into eternity.