The Teaching of the Prophetic Encyclical Humanae Vitae (Part VII)

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What questions motivated the publication of Humanae Vitae?

We began our commentaries on Humanae Vitae by addressing the four predictions St. Paul VI made in Humanae Vitae 17 regarding the consequences of not heeding the teachings of this encyclical.

Sadly, we have seen that all of his four predictions have become a dreadful reality:

  1. Men have lost respect for women, including their own wives
  2. Sexual immorality has skyrocketed
  3. Some governments impose contraception, sterilization, and abortion on their own citizens
  4. Most people wrongly think that they have the right to an absolute dominion over their own bodies and even over the bodies of others, thus ushering in abortion, fetal body parts trafficking, and euthanasia, among many other evils.

This sad state of affairs makes Humanae Vitae all the more relevant. And so, now we will return to the beginning of the encyclical and address the issues that prompted St. Paul VI to write this prophetic document. These issues are:

  1. The myth of “overpopulation”
  2. The changed role of women in society
  3. A supposedly “greater” appreciation of conjugal love
  4. Scientific and technological development


1) The Myth of Overpopulation

huge packed crowd

At the time Humanae Vitae was published (1968) most people thought (and it seems the Pope himself also thought) that the world was “overpopulated,” and that population growth would worsen conditions: lack of food, impoverishment, environmental damage, and so on. Therefore, Catholic especially were turning to the Church, asking if She could not rescind Her ban on contraception.

As HLI and other pro-life organizations have proved over and over again, based on the conclusions of demographic experts, the so-called “population explosion” is nothing but a cruel myth that the UN, IPPF, and other anti-life organizations are using to advance population control and abortion, especially in the developing world. What we do have is a dangerous population implosion that is proving detrimental to nations and to the world at large. We invite the reader to explore the following articles on this issue:


2) The Role of Women in Society

Some people (including socialist politicians) claim that the role of women outside the home and in society is not recognized. In order to “free” woman from procreation so that she might enter the workforce, she needs to have access to contraceptives. Housewives should leave the small children they do have to a system of daycare so that they can work outside the home in fulfilling jobs and careers.

businesswomen in conference room with laptops

In his encyclical, St. Paul VI affirms that the Church recognizes the contributions women are making to the betterment of society. In fact, following the Word of God in Genesis 1:26-28, the Church recognizes that men and women possess the same dignity. But supplying wives, mothers, and housewives with contraceptives will not advance the cause of women; it will harm their physical and spiritual wellbeing, as was explained earlier when we dealt with the four predictions St. Paul VI made in Humanae Vitae.

To know more about the harmful side effects contraceptives have on women, as well as the abortifacient nature of most so-called contraceptives, we encourage the reader to explore the following articles:


3) A Supposedly “Greater” Appreciation of Conjugal Love

Some people claim that modernity has a “greater” appreciation of conjugal love than previous generations. They think that contraceptives will enable spouses to have more sexual relations without the stress of procreating more children.

We will consider with St. Paul VI’s answer to this challenge later in his encyclical, where he shows that the practice of contraception goes not only against the transmission of human life, but also against conjugal love itself.

In anticipation of the Church’s answer to this idea of conjugal love without procreation, we might observe observe that when couples contracept, they are in effect denying an important aspect of their human nature–that is, fertility or openness to life. Therefore, they are not giving themselves totally to each other, which is what conjugal love is all about.


4) Scientific and Technological Development

Many people think that man has achieved through science and technology great advances in all areas of human life. Why is it not permissible to also apply this technological development to “the laws that regulate the transmission of life?” (see no. 2).

St. Paul VI answers, “The Church is the first to praise and commend the application of human intelligence to an activity in which a rational creature such as man is so closely associated with his Creator. But she affirms that this must be done within the limits of the order of reality established by God” (see no. 16).

That order of reality established by God includes the integral good of the human person. The Church rejects that type of technology which is detrimental to the integral good of the human person, such as contraceptives. Perhaps an example outside the area of procreation will help us understand better this teaching of the Church.

Atomic energy is a wonderful way to power our plants and cities. But the use of this energy to wage an atomic war would be evil.



Once St. Paul VI has considered the modern world’s challenges to the teaching of the Church on contraception, he goes on to establish the authority of the Church to answer those questions and to face those changes in modern society.

That will be the topic of our next article.


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Adolfo is the Director of Education for Hispanic Outreach for Human Life International and of HLI's Hispanic outreach arm Vida Humana Internacional. He has a Masters in Theology from St. Vincent de Paul Regional (Major) Seminary and a License in Moral Theology from the Alphonsian Academy in Rome.

Adolfo has traveled frequently to VHI’s affiliates in Latin America to give talks, training sessions, and media interviews. He has authored and co-authored books, articles, reports, and a pro-life training course for Hispanics in the U.S. Adolfo has also participated in the production of two TV pro-life series in Spanish, which have been aired through EWTN en Español.

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