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The promulgation of HV will probably be viewed by future historians as a very special, if not unique, event. It was not the first time that a pope attempted to teach a moral doctrine by using an encyclical. A number of previous encyclicals touched upon questions of morality, especially the great social encyclicals since Leo XIII. Nor has the specific topic of sexual morality been ignored in papal teaching as Pius XI’s famous CC showed by its pointed rebuttle to the Lambeth Conference in 1930. Similarly, it was not the first time that a papal encyclical met with opposition and stirred wide theological debate. Pope Pius XII’s Humani Generis (1950) became, the center of subtle controversy after its initial impact and underwent possibly as many interpretations as any other papal document up to its time until it was superseded by the teachings of Vatican II. What: makes the HV event so special, however, is that it was the first papal encyclical that met with immediate and outspoken opposition from every sector of the church and almost every corner of the globe.
Two factors contributed a great deal to the response – both positive and negative – that HV received. The first was its content. This encyclical, about the regulation of births and the condemnation of all artificial means of birth control, touched the lives of millions of Catholics around the world and taught a doctrine which contradicted what had already become a widespread practice. At the same time, the topic itself was very much in the public consciousness as the questions of overpopulation, distribution of resources and a rapidly increasing standard of living were being debated and, in the minds of some, civilization had reached the point where careful planning of population growth was becoming necessary for survival. The second factor was that the system of mass communication in 1968 had become so wide and swift that not only was the papal statement immediately available throughout the world at the time of its issue, but the voices of response were rapidly carried far and wide. That response was available to most anyone who cared to listen, but it also served to reinforce and unite opinion either for or against the teaching. Whereas in former times the voices of dissent may have been heard by a few, in 1968 they were well publicized. While the acceptance of the teaching was also part of the response, it was the opposition to a statement of the head of the Roman Catholic Church that was found to be “newsworthy” by the media. That fact alone may have caused an imbalance in world opinion and L’OR was quick to criticize the media for its bias reporting. But it must also be considered that the media may simply have been doing its job and only served to hasten a process which would have occurred in any case. For the opposing voices came not only from the opinionated public forum but – and these were considered the most news-worthy – from responsible, established and well known bishops and theologians.

It may not, then, be an overstatement to say that in a given period of time, HV received more response than any previous papal encyclical. This alone would make it a very special event.. But it may also be true that never has an encyclical received such immediate, negative reaction and mitigating interpretation as did HV. The moral issues exposed in the last chapter show that instead of centering in on the basic substance of the teaching, the volume of reaction tended to expand the complexity of the debate and open new questions and approaches to the whole area under consideration. Many of those moral issues have yet to be resolved, for they have introduced questions of fundamental morals which demand historical, critical and, in the truest sense, scientific theological investigation. Nonetheless, the moral issues raised in the controversy over birth control and highlighted by the promulgation of HV are only a part of the significance of that event. The reaction to this encyclical included a great deal of speculation on the authoritative status of its teaching. Further, the nature and meaning of the response itself raised questions of authority with regard to papal teaching in general, especially in the area of morals, and particularly with respect to the role of every part of the church in responding to that teaching. What was the status of papal teaching in morals? the status of this particular teaching? Could one dissent from the teaching? Who had the right to dissent, or even to interpret, the teaching? and to what extent? Was the teaching binding in conscience? and what about the situation of those who simply did not find it convincing?

These and many similar questions became so important: in the reaction to HV that they eventually eclipsed the moral issues being discussed. While the question of birth control has become a virtual, non-issue in Catholic theology and in a good deal of pastoral practice, the authority questions are still being widely debated. The nature and exercise of the “magisterium” in the church is a current topic of theological investigation on every level of church membership and in every area of theological reflection. While it would be accurate to say that this is due a good deal to changing contemporary notions of all authority, which itself was reflected in the church’s own renewal at Vatican II, it would not seem an exaggeration to attribute a large part of the present ecclesial self-consciousness over authority to the events surrounding the promulgation of HV.

It would be an ambitious project to simply review the status quaestionis of authority in the church, though the need for such an undertaking is essential for the theological enterprise. More specifically, it would be a great service to situate the issue of authoritative teaching in the area of morals since this has yet to be accomplished from a post-Vatican I perspective.(1) Needless to say, these topics lie outside the scope and competence of the present study. What we intend here is merely a review of the reactions to HV with respect to the questions of and related to the authority issues raised by that papal statement. Because the HV event served to focus a good deal of attention on the question of authority in the church and because the dialogue which has grown out of that controversy is still going on, (2) it may be of some service to elaborate upon what was the starting point for many who took up the issue in later years. For our own purposes, the evaluation of HV cannot be complete without an appreciation of its status as an “authoritative statement.”

The plan of this investigation will review the reactions to HV in regard to four areas of inquiry. First, we will attempt to see how this encyclical was situated with respect to the general understanding of authoritative teaching. This will necessarily include a reflection on the meaning of the term “magisterium.” Secondly, more specific questions must be addressed to this particular document to determine how it relates to such teaching in general. The literature in this area centered on two principle topics: the relation of the encyclical to tradition and the (need for) internal assessment of its own arguments to establish its validity. Thirdly, the implementation of the encyclical will be questioned, especially in regard to the role of personal conscience in responding to an authoritative teaching. Fourthly, we must note what was written about the entrance of the papal statement into the public forum. Here we will raise the questions of assent and dissent and review how the encyclical was actually received. We will end with some reflections on the meaning of “reception” for authoritative teaching.

I. Ecclesiological questions
A. The magisterium
The encyclical HV makes several references to the “teaching of the church” or the fact that a given idea has been or is being taught by the church. In five places, however, Pope Paul used the specific term “magisterium” to designate the ecclesial office of teacher in a more technical sense. HV,4 uses the term twice to note that new questions have been addressed to the magisterium and that “no member of the Christian faithful would deny that the Magisterium of the Church is competent to judge, the interpretation of the natural moral law.”(3) In para. 6, the findings of the Pontifical Birth Control Commission are rejected “above all” (praesertim) because they used criteria “at variance with the moral teaching on marriage proposed by the firm, constant teaching of the Magisterium of the Church.”(4) HV 28 again uses the term twice, to ask priests for internal and external obedience, which is due to the magisterium and- to urge them to speak with it as one voice.(5)  HV,29 expresses confidence that this will be achieved because the Holy Spirit will invite assent just as he is present to the magisterium,(6) Finally, in the condemnation of direct sterilization, HV,14 mentions in passing that this has been taught several times by the magisterium.(7) Only one of the instances (HV,29) uses the term alone without the qualification “ecclesial” or “of the church,” but it is hardly possible to speculate that Pope Paul was not frequently referring to the specific papal exercise of the magisterium.

The invocation of the official teaching office of the church, the magisterium, was an idea repeated by a number of episcopal statements(8) on HV and it attracted the attention of theological reaction to the encyclical. But commentaries on the nature of this office, as well as its extension and consequences were not entirely uniform. A number of equally technical qualifications were attached to the notion of magisterium including “ordinary,” “authentic,” “infallible,” and “non-infallible,” not to mention the appropriation of “papal,” “episcopal” and “ecclesial” magisterium. This multiplication of terms is due in part to the fact that the nature of the magisterium itself is not always understood in the same way by different parties. While the concept is an ancient and traditional one, some of its finer points of understanding are relatively late, having originated around the time of the First Vatican Council which was primarily concerned with (papal) authority.

The term magisterium is a collective one. Briefly, it refers to the teaching office exercised in the church and can be divided in many ways. In the more traditional scheme, it can be defined according to either who exercises it or the degree of solemnity attached to what is taught. The magisterium can be exercised by the pope, in virtue of his role as the head of the episcopal college; the bishops, acting together with the pope in a council, as representatives of the collective teaching of the church dispersed throughout the world, or teaching separately in their own dioceses; by those appointed and recognized as representatives of the official teaching church; and by the sensus fidelium in its appropriation and living out of the faith which serves as a basis for the very tradition upon which the official church teaches.(9) The statements of the magisterium range in degree from that which is infallible, namely what is solemnly proclaimed as such by a pope or an ecumenical council acting together with the pope when they define a teaching according to the recognized criteria, to the non-infallible teaching of the various levels of the magisterium according to the agent who is exercising that office, the manner in which it is exercised, and the subject matter being proposed.(10)

The encyclical is a document of the papal exercise of the magisterium, but various statements in the letter also attribute some of its teaching to a broader, ecclesial exercise of that office which could be taken to mean the traditional teaching and/or the general consensus of all those who share in the magisterium. It seems that both these categories are assumed to be relevant by the author of HV. Not only does Pope Paul make frequent references to his predecessors and to the “constant teaching of the Church” but he also appears to believe that what he says is shared by the (episcopal) members of the church as a whole. We will deal with these appeals to tradition and to consensus below, but we must first situate the encyclical in respect to its relation with the magisterium in general.

HV is not an infallible statement. This is well established not only by the fact that it fails to fulfill the criteria for being such(11) but also by the official admonition to that, effect. In his press conference to introduce the encyclical, Msgr. Lambruschini noted its non-infallible character and took up the topic, in more detail in a later book.(12) In his exposition, the author points out that the encyclical is not considered to be of divine faith, of catholic faith or even as proximate to the faith.(13) Nevertheless, he uses two terms to describe the origin of HV which played an important part in this question: it is a statement of the authentic and ordinary magisterium.

To say that HV is a statement of the authentic magisterium is equivalent to saying that it is “authoritative.” The authority of the statement in this case is said to be due not to its inner reasoning and arguments, but to the authority of the one (the pope) putting forth the teaching. Thus, magisterium authenticum means not really “authentic” as such, in the tradition, but merely “authoritative” by reason of its source. (14)The term “ordinary magisterium,” however, proved to be a bit more difficult to understand. A preliminary approach to the concept will first distinguish the ordinary from the extraordinary exercise of the magisterium. The latter is that which is present when a pope, acting as the supreme head of the church and the college of bishops, or the bishops of the world acting together in an ecumenical council in union with the pope as their head, solemnly define a dogma which must be accepted and believed by the entire church. Such a solemn definition is the. subject matter of what is usually called the infallible exercise of the magisterium. In contrast to this, the ordinary magisterium operates neither on the level of solemn definitions nor in such a highly structured and well-defined way. Rather, it is usually referred to as the common, day-to-day teaching intended to guide all the members of the church in preservation of the faith, i.e., “the one, normal – hence ordinary-magisterium.(15) The ordinary magisterium, therefore, can also be understood as infallible, but the criterion for this designation is far less clear than that of the extraordinary and depends upon a proper understanding of the meaning of ordinary magisterium in practice.

Joseph A. Komonchak has offered a detailed study of the meaning of ordinary magisterium which deserves special attention. He begins with the evolution of the conciliar document, LG, specifically para. 25 which was the focus of many reactions to HV. In the discussion of the final draft of that document, he notes three modi (nn. 159, 160 and 161) all of which refer to the idea of ordinary magisterium. The responses to all three modi did not alter the draft but referred instead to the explanations found in the auctores probati. Komonchak studies these “approved authors” to better understand the nature of the religious assent which is due to this exercise of the office.(16) One thing he finds is that although the concept is sometimes applied to the ancient teachings, the term itself is of recent origin, going back to only the mid-nineteenth century.(17) Since that time, the notion has steadily grown to include a broader area, but it has not been the object of any extensive study or even explained in the context of official teaching.

Attention to the origin of the notion of ordinary magisterium shows that its first official use in the discussions at Vatican I was limited to the teaching office of the bishops and was not personally appropriated to the pope.(18) The ordinary magisterium is attributed to the general, common teaching of the bishops dispersed throughout the world and can be said to share in the significance of infallible teaching when it involves the genuine belief of the church held in common and reflected by the teaching of all the bishops.(19) The papal exercise of the teaching office thus participates (20) in the ordinary magisterium and might be said to crystalize its teaching and reflect its application to the daily life of the church. But in its strictest sense, the Petrine office cannot be said to form or initiate the teaching of the ordinary magisterium, the substance of which is clearly related to the common belief and teaching of the entire church, both historically and geographically. (21) Insofar as a papal statement is founded upon the common teaching, it can be said to belong to the ordinary magisterium of the church. In later years, the growth of the centralized function of the “official” teaching office has led to a widening appropriation of the competence of the papal offices to determine the content and meaning of the ordinary magisterium and to exercise judgment upon specific teachings as to their appropriateness to be included in that total understanding of the faith. This trend can be easily understood if we apply the sense of juridical procedures to this function by which the central offices judge given teachings to be sound ones, but very often it has been supposed that this exercise of papal magisterium was a formative, rather than an interpretive, one.(23)

The term ordinary magisterium, then, applies to the common teaching of the church and can be appropriated to a specific office of the general magisterium in its day-to-day activity of preserving the “deposit of faith.” To speak of ordinary papal magisterium, therefore, demands some reference to the magisterium of the church as a whole and the “common teaching,” usually reflected by that of the bishops dispersed throughout the world (and also related to the common historical faith and teaching of the church preserved throughout a significant period of time). There are no substantive grounds upon which one. can claim the right of the ordinary papal magisterium to initiate a teaching or raise it to a level which it does not de facto enjoy as a result of its position in the general, ordinary teaching of the church.

As this applies to the teaching of HV, a few thoughts may be offered before going on to discuss the reaction to that encyclical. First it is of interest that Pope Paul himself nowhere refers to ordinary magisterium but does choose the term Magisterium Ecclesiae more often than not. There is no doubt that he saw the content of the teaching to be the result of his own personal decision in the matter. But at the same time he offers his reasons for making this decision generally with respect to the teaching of the whole church (Magisterium Ecclesiae) and more particularly to the (historical) teaching of previous popes. Secondly, the appropriation of terms such as authentic and ordinary magisterium to the substance of this teaching is the result of commentary and not to be attributed to the encyclical itself. The assessment of the status of this encyclical, therefore, can be carried on only with an investigation of the true position it holds in the one, general magisterium of the church (including that exercised by the Petrine see) and not on the basis of the titles or categories which are attributed to it without explanation or qualification.(24) Thirdly, the simultaneous use of the terms “authentic” and “ordinary” are actually conflicting when they are seen in the light of their traditional textbook definitions. “Authentic” means that a statement draws its authority from its source instead of from its arguments. But to say that a teaching belongs to the ordinary magisterium is to link it to the general (geographical and/or historical) consensus of church teaching – a designation which is incomplete and stands in need of verification. It is wholly within tradition to understand that any given teaching is liable to be compared with the entire deposit of faith, such that a number of the most “official teachings of the “highest” authorities are subject to change pending their congruence with the genuine ordinary magisterium. (25) Thus, to say that a teaching belongs to the ordinary magisterium is to describe an area for judging its “authenticity” and not to seal the question by virtue of its author!tative source,

Finally, none of this speculation yet solves the questions raised by the fact that HV itself represents an “authentic papal statement,” i.e., an authoritative one, which demands attention and respect. In the words of LG,25, such statements demand “the religious submission of will and mind.” But the same document goes on to describe one’s “reverence” and “adherence” as qualified by the pope’s “manifest mind and will” which may be known “either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.” These criteria can be approached only after some further investigation into the authoritative status of the encyclical itself.

B. The magisterium and HV
The reaction to HV naturally included a good deal of attention to its authoritative status but it also introduced questions pertaining to the role of the magisterium in general with respect to moral teaching. The statements of the Vatican notwithstanding, there were some commentaries which insisted on linking the encyclical with the note of infallibility. M.R. Gagnebet claims that “it is without doubt an infallible doctrine”(26) and G.B. Guzzetti writes that “the doctrine proposed by Humanae Vitae is therefore true and irreformable.”(27) Some made reference to a connection between this and the “ordinary infallible magisterium” (28)and Felix Bak makes an explicit link by writing “we support, the position claiming that the condemnation of contraceptives is an infallible teaching of the Church’s Ordinary Magisterium.(29) Others were content to connect that teaching simply with the ordinary magisterium (30)and at least one author uses the term specifically enough to write, “one thing is certain: the ordinary magisterium of the supreme pontiff is here being fully exercised.”(31)’

On the opposite side of opinion, the Statement of the Washington Theologians criticizes HV for employing “a narrow and positivistic notion of papal authority.”(32) Franz Bockle commented on the increasingly personal view Pope Paul took toward the entire exercise of the magisterium, (33) while an article in Herder Correspondence takes a rather broad view of this occurrence, writing,

It needs to be clearly stated that in this the Pope himself is not at fault. It was at least with the conscious acquiscence of the whole Church that he reserved the decision to himself, it was the whole Church that looked to him for an answer. (34)

Regardless of how personal this exercise of authority was, however, there remained the question of how it could be applied. James Burtchaell notes that the question of who has authority in the church was balanced in Vatican II by re-instating the proper role of the bishops, but the council fathers “left largely unresolved the much more basic issue: how much authority does the Church claim or possess, no matter who wields it?(35) This remains an important issue, particularly in respect to the area of moral teaching.

The comments of Louis Janssens have already been noted in respect to the authority of the magisterium with regard to natural law. He goes further in his article to state that this authority in the field of morals is twofold: to propose norms of a general nature in order to awaken and inspire the pursuit of values, and to propose more concrete norms based upon the data of experience. (36) Citing GS, 11, 33, 36 and 46, Janssens notes the autonomy and historicity of concrete norms which demands the consultation of the experience of all the church before such norms can be proposed. This is necessarily true of moral behavior which of its nature is always emersed in a context. J.P. Mackey takes up the problem in assessing the entire area of morals with respect to competent authority.(37)  In his well developed article he points to the essential problem of the distinction between faith and morals: whereas the first is relatively easy to define because of its direct relation with revelation, the second is more problematical due to the basic mutability of the moral law.(38) His position reflects the teaching of LG,25 which made its general statements about authoritative teaching principally with reference to the light of revelation.

Gustave Thils addresses the whole question of authoritative competence with respect to the different forms that the magisterium may take.(39)  He notes that while it is indeed true that we can and must trust the magisterium because of the promise of the assistance of the Holy Spirit, we must also be aware of the fact that the mere presence of the Spirit does not guarantee its maximum force. The criterion he employs in evaluating authoritative teaching is based upon that found in Vatican I and II, namely, its connection with revelation.

In fact, if the assistance of the Holy Spirit was promised by Christ, it is in the form of the integrity and faithful transmission of christian revelation. The more one moves away from, the heart of revelation the more must we be circumspect when declaring that the Spirit of God gives security to a doctrine. Already the conciliar work of Vatican I separated the government of the Church from the realm of infallibility. In the area of non-revealed truths, “necessarily connected” with revelation – nevertheless called the secondary object of infallibility – prudence is already rigorous, and it is not de. fide that the council or the Pope can proclaim an infallible decree in these matters. -When one arrives at. “natural law” an even greater prudence is imposed: can one really determine in a precise or technical way a doctrine such as that of property, personal rights or conjugal or familial behavior by resting, before anything else on the light promised to safeguard revelation?(40)

Daniel Maguire develops the same idea of the assistance of the Spirit, with respect to religious assent.(41)  He also begins by assessing the work of Vatican I and detects a gradually widening use of the term to apply to each and every act of the magisterium. What was once a very special terra came to be applied very liberally. In that, view we approach the proposition of HV,28 that assent to its teaching is due not to its arguments but to the light of the Holy Spirit given to the magisterium. As we shall see, not all theological assessment agreed with this assertion.

C. Authority and freedom
The opinions noted above are obviously not shared by everyone. Gagnebet, for instance, believes in some sort of absolute binding force for disciplinary laws as well as for moral ones,(42) and Journet thinks it is only a matter of time before the teaching of HV “will be verified by a consensus of divine faith.”(43) The latter opinion, however, is hard to appreciate unless one presupposes an atmosphere of free and open discussion over the matter. For how can any consensus appear without dialogue? (44) Unfortunately, some of those who sought to protect the authority of the magisterium, particularly in this matter, have gone to the extreme of denying any such dialogue.(45) That opinion led to a sometimes bitter debate which highlighted the emergence of the authority issue as one of the most important m the reactions to HV.(46)

On the one hand, there are those who approached the questions strictly from the position of authority. Carlo Colombo considers the Apostolic See to be an originator of doctrine, particularly this one. (47) Francesco Marchesi goes even further to insist upon the right of the pope to act alone,(48) an idea which was strongly denied by a number of theologians who criticized HV at least for the lack of collegiality in its formation.(49)  The argument from authority was indicative of a very distinct view of (papal)(50) authority in the church that took precedence over all other forms of reasoning and teaching. That view tended to see the papal office as isolated, or at least free from all forms of limitation and conditioning. The only free choice left to other members of the church, then, was assent to the substance of the magisterial teaching.

In a general way, Peter Harris criticizes this reduction of authority to a “politico-legal sense” as being at odds with the authority of Christ.(51) B.C. Butler attempts to broaden the understanding by observing that the church’s authority “is essentially an authority which appeals to conscience and to nothing else.” He bases the fundamental observation on the fact that one is a member of the church to begin with because of a free choice.(52)  Following that reasoning, one must see all authority to be vacuous without a relation to freely acting individuals. Applied to this delicate moral teaching, it is highly pertinent to note that the very presumption of acting in a moral way entails the ability of a true moral agent to evaluate the grounds for his decision. One could hardly be considered to be acting morally unless one is acting freely – and in the case of conscience decisions, that freedom implies the ability to evaluate the moral principles involved.(53)

While one might argue that the. relation between the magisterium and the moral agent is no more than that between the authority to teach and the freedom to respond, there is a much deeper question involved when we consider that the relation here is basically one of communication. In a strictly neutral way this envelops an essential task of theology to explain and interpret official teaching for the comprehension of the faithful as well as for the magisterium’s own self-understanding. This extends from the basic study of the message of scripture to the complex and historically conditioned controversies in the development of dogma. But occasionally the dialogue between authoritative teaching and theological reflection is not so complementary. Such was the case with the promulgation of HV. For in this case the teaching of the magisterium was based neither upon scripture nor upon a common understanding of the question but was representative of only one “school” of theology. (54)

The moral arguments outlined in the preceding chapter highlight the real theological differences between those who prepared and supported the encyclical and those who took issue with its argumentation and conclusions. Those differences did not occur spontaneously but were the result of a very real evolution in theological reflection. While it is true that in 1930 the encyclical CC was almost unanimously accepted in the Roman Catholic Church, there had already been genuine disagreement with its conclusions in other responsible quarters of Christianity. As the debate slowly developed, a growing number of Catholics, theolgians as well as ordinary members of the church, began to revaluate the arguments and conclusions of the questions of birth control and contraception. The issues, while still controversial, became widespread and were the topic of public discussion not only between theologians but also among bishops. The culmination of what has been called a state of doubt in the question, as well as the best example of the widely divergent opinions on the matter, took place in the work and conclusions of the Pontificial Birth Control Commission.

When HV was issued, it not only recognized the real presence of divergent schools of thought on the matter, but specifically chose one theology over another (HV, 1-4, 6, 16). The question that naturally arose in the reaction to the encyclical was whether the papal endorsement of one theological perspective automatically determined the correctness or superiority of that, one approach. The fact that the encyclical was an authoritative statement led some commentators to consider the matter beyond discussion. Such an attitude would tend to place an utterance of the magisterium beyond the range of theological investigation, but it seems obvious to say again that this opinion was not shared by everyone.

At the very foundation of this question lies the problem of the relationship between theology and authoritative teaching. We must first recognize that every statement of the magisterium, even those which seek to elaborate the substance of revelation, are built upon theological concepts and structures.(55) For human beings to communicate, they must employ thought patterns, and statements involving faith and morals necessarily draw upon theological reflection for the statement of the. question as well as for its ongoing resolution. This situation is not: always evident when there is basic agreement in such matters; but a problem arises when there is not full accord, as when a doctrine is undergoing change. Historical statements of authority naturally become the object of theological reflection and speculation. Very frequently, a change takes place in the church’s basic understanding of a doctrine which then is embodied in a new authoritative statement that incorporates the evolved thinking. The difficulty is in determining when the new formulation of the teaching becomes acceptable.(56) The assertion that a single statement from authority puts an end to the discussion, as Humani Generis put forth, must be seen in the context of the totality of the historical situation. For if this were literally true, there would be no advancement whatever in authoritative teaching. Rather, it may be better to apply this idea to disciplinary matters involving clearly discernible dangers to the faith of the church – and even in this instance, the end of discussion would seem to imply a basic agreement about the matter among the majority of those affected.

When we apply this reasoning to the HV episode, it is evident that the encyclical clearly did not end the discussion on the matter. If anything, it opened a much larger debate over the question of birth control itself as well as about the surrounding issues of authority, and the divergent schools of thought on the questions did not cease to exist after the papal pronouncement. Rather, it became clear to some theologians that the encyclical itself was the result of choosing one theological approach over another which had already become widely accepted in the church.(57)’ In doing so, Pope Paul offered his criterion to be the traditional thinking of the church (HV, 4 & 6). Aside from the moral argumentation of the encyclical, this was the major defense offered to establish the conclusions of HV as the only acceptable position for a Catholic to hold. The reaction to the encyclical took up the issue of tradition in much the same way that it was understood prior to the document’s promulgation.  In light of the fact that the pope claimed to be in congruence with the “constant teaching of the church” in the matter, those who disagreed with his conclusions had to return to the issue once again to justify their own position.

II. The status of HV
A. The argument from tradition
A great deal has already been written on the historical development of the church’s teaching on contraception, the most well known example of which is John T. Noonan’s Contraception: A History of its Treatment by Catholic Theologians and Canonists.(58) It would be pointless to recreate the catalogue of facts which is already well documented. But this does not necessarily imply that there is any clear interpretation of those facts which is acceptable to everyone. For that matter, the very meaning of “tradition” is open to interpretation and cannot be appreciated without a good deal of reflective thought. In the case of HV, it will be necessary to understand exactly what is meant by the argument from tradition, or the constant teaching of the church, before one can evaluate the status of Pope Paul’s position.

It is interesting that the attempt to found the teaching of HV on two thousand years of church history comes not from the encyclical but from those who sought to support its conclusions. Most of these arguments are superfluous allusions to a great and long history of the teaching that even Pope Paul did not attempt to establish.(59) The fact is that in the early church, contraception was virtually inseparable from sins against an individual human life, and those doctrines which spoke of avoiding the procreation of children in principle, were closely linked to dogmatic and philosophical propositions rather than the moral means for achieving that end. Even if we were to consider each case which might be construed to approach the morality of such means, we would immediately have to contextualize the argumentation in light of the biological knowledge that formed its background. For that reason alone, it would seem necessary to admit that the essence of the question itself – what is meant by the word “contraception” – is different today than it was in the early church.

Yet one could not deny that there is a body of teaching in the church which relates, at least indirectly, to the issues of birth control and contraception. As the problem has always been a human one and christians have always at least confronted if not practiced the idea of controlling procreation, the church as teacher has offered words of guidance in one form or another. But we must ask precisely what was being said in each of these instances and how one should interpret the meaning and intention behind each statement.(60) Without that understanding, it becomes a platitude to assert that the church has never allowed the use of contraception as morally licit. On the other hand, we must account for a long and constant – though certainly developing, as we hope will become clear – teaching of the church on the general topic of marriage and the rights and duties of married couples. Such is the ambiguous nature of the concept of tradition.(61) While this has perennially been with the church in its working out of the understanding of revelation, it is a relatively new problem to the area of morals. In the latter case, it is sometimes easy to forget that each new step along the path of tradition must be oriented essentially to carrying forth the faith.(62)

Before considering the particular problem addressed by HV, we might split the question of the traditional teaching into two categories: that of the earlier history of the church’s teaching and that of the more recent understanding of the matter. In respect to the first it seems fair to say that the common opinion of theologians rejects the notion that the moral condemnation of “artificial birth control” as it is put forth in the encyclical is traceable throughout the history of church teaching.(63) But it is  also not denied that there is something in that tradition which may be relevant to the matter. It is difficult, however, to treat the entire tradition as a single block of teaching. It has been noted that the fathers of the church could scarcely identify with the contemporary formulations. For in their thinking the engagement of conjugal intercourse was considered justifiable propter solam procreationem, and as late as 1796 Innocent XI condemned marital coitus for the sake of pleasure as not without fault. (64) So many arguments were put forth with regard to problems of infertile coitus (in pregnancy, after menopause, with sterile persons, intentional contraception) that no single doctrine can be said to represent all schools of thought.

To understand that history, I propose the further division of the church’s teaching in this area before the last century into negative and positive statements, i.e., those enunciating condemnations and prohibitions and those putting forth values. On the negative side would be found all those statements which have been invoked in defense of HV but also a number which have been conveniently ignored. “Contraception” had certainly been condemned in the past, but it was thought for a long time that male semen carried the entirety of a potential human being. To waste the seed was to kill a potential human being. There was also a very strong reaction to the belief that procreation in general was wrong because it imprisoned a soul in the bonds of flesh. This inspired a good deal of Augustine’s debate with the Manicheans and his strong condemnations of their ways. Further, it must be considered that the whole area of sexual activity was negatively evaluated throughout a good deal of the history of Western civilization. To engage in intercourse was to compromise man’s spiritual nature, give in to carnal pleasure or engage in animal activity. Sex, and the pleasure associated with it, were considered to be evil and could be justified only if one’s engagement in such were for the purpose  of procreation. Thus, to employ contraception was to negate the one possible justifying reason for such behavior and admit the pursuit of (evil) pleasure. In sum, if we group all the negative statements of the previous church teaching, we see an inconsistency of intention and purpose that defies absolute categorization. Further, because of the lack of precise biological knowledge, it would be impossible to say that there is any real, historical precedent for the kind of question which has been posed for moral consideration in the past one hundred years.

When we look to the positive side of church teaching, however, it becomes easier to sense an emerging tradition. Here the concern is not so much about artificial birth control as about values and those things which were taught for the edification of the faithful. Norman St. John-Stevas comments on that positive tradition:

It is no doubt true that certain basic values which the Church has sought, to protect in marriage have remained constant, but the perspective in which these values have been seen has certainly altered, as well as the means employed to advance and protect them. Among the marital values consistently maintained by the Church have been the good of procreation, the importance of permanence in marriage, the need to educate the children, the personal, dignity of the spouses, and the holiness of conjugal love, but she has not committed herself to a changeless body of ethical rules to embody them.(65)

It might be said in respect to the foregoing that these values are partially what lie at the base of the negative teachings and prohibitions. While the teaching on marriage has been and still is slowly developing, it has been relatively clear what the essence of that teaching would exclude. Thus, anything which denied the basic good of procreation would have to be considered wrong, for it contradicted a value held to be part of marriage itself.

But before one jumps to conclusions from this observation, it must be pointed out that each specific teaching of the church also employs a more general and fundamental theology that plays an equally important role in precisely what is said. The need to protect the values of marriage, for instance, must distinguish between the duty to realize a value and its absolute exclusion. Whereas it was formerly considered necessary that the value of procreation be not only safeguarded but. intentionally sought in each and every act of coitus, the recent teaching of the church admits to a general affirmation of the value and the avoidance of its realization in specific acts (periodic continence). To be more precise, a distinction must be made between the specific avoidance of realizing the value of procreation, acts which seek to limit its realization, and its absolute exclusion. The first is commonly accepted in the teaching of the church, the second is the present area of debate and the third is generally rejected by most theologians. Similarly, the evaluation of human acts must be seen in the light of their simultaneous connection with different values. Again, whereas it was formerly considered that conjugal intercourse was judged mainly with respect to its realization of the value of procreation, propter solam procreationem (the remedy for concupiscence being seen negatively and the realization of the bonum fidei being subordinate to the bonum prolis), it is now commonly accepted that sexual relations between spouses are oriented to the realization of many values which do not always occur simultaneously.

Thus the history of the church’s teaching in this matter reveals on the one hand a multifaceted collection of intentions and meanings inherent in the prohibitions issued by the magisterium, and on the other, a rather positive affirmation of basic values with respect to marriage which has been present in a continuously changing and developing teaching. Moreover, while the values set forth contribute to a coherent and generally accepted body of doctrine (tradition) on marriage, they cannot be identified with any one, historical expression which can be applied to the evaluation of single human acts.(67)

In considering the more recent tradition of church teaching with respect to marriage and the regulation of birth, it becomes more difficult to define the limits of what has been taught.  For the last hundred years of official statements in this area have exhibited a profound evolution in teaching. The concept of marriage itself has gone through a cultural, social and psychological evolution which was necessarily reflected in church teaching. Similarly, the evaluation of sexual acts in marriage has evolved both because of advances in biological knowledge and the cultural, etc., understanding of that phenomena.  Perhaps these can be made more clear by attending to HV’s appeal to “the constant teaching of the church,” after we expose that concept itself.

Pope Paul actually makes two kinds of appeals to tradition in his encyclical: one concerns the role and history of the church’s teaching on the (natural) moral law and the other relates directly to the church teaching on marriage. The oldest reference in HV is to the Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part II, Ch. 8, which is given three times (HV,4, n. 4; 14, nn. 14 & 16). While this source treats marriage in a general way, the Council of Trent itself was concerned mainly with the juridical aspects of the sacrament of matrimony. It would be hard to believe that this reference intends to take the whole teaching of the Catechism as the basis for the modern doctrine on marriage and its citation can only be considered a general reference.(68)  Aside from this, there is only one reference in the encyclical which predates the teaching of Pius XI with respect to marriage. That is to Leo XIII’s encyclical Arcanum (1880, cf., HV,4, n. 4) which is also principally about the juridical and sacramental aspects of marriage. All other references given in HV’s notes to the teaching on marriage refer back only as far as 1930.

The noted use of sources in HV reveals an identification only with the rather recent teaching of the church on marriage. Yet, when we read the text of the encyclical, we find phrases such as “the church has always, but more fully in recent times, taught a consistant doctrine on the right use of marital rights and duties” (HV,4).(69)  The discrepancy between this rather general assertion and the striking lack of documentation to support the claim of “constant teaching” is further complicated by the other type of traditional appeal which is made, to the teaching on the natural moral law. The first (and oldest) reference to this teaching (HV,4, n. 4) is also rather recent, dating back only as far as Pius IX’s encyclical Qui Pluribus (1846). This type of appeal enters the discussion especially in one of the most important allusions to traditional teaching. HV,6 consists iii the dismissal of the findings of the Pontifical Birth Control Commission for reasons culminating in the decision that “the ways of resolving the question and the reasons which emerged departed from the moral teaching on marriage proposed with constant firmness by the Magisterium of the Church.”(70)

It is ambiguous here whether Pope Paul is referring to the traditional teaching on marriage or the interpretation of natural law, and the complete lack of any reference given at this point makes the statement appear gratuitous. It remains a question what the author had in mind and the only means of determining the answer seems to be the overall approach of the rest of the encyclical.

When we consider the precise moral argumentation offered by HV in its teaching on the regulation of births and contraception, we noted that the primary concern, was accorded to “the marriage act” (use of marriage, conjugal intercourse, etc.) itself rather than to the general theology of marriage. Because of this approach, centering upon what is morally permitted sexual behavior, the criteria employed by Pope Paul rested mainly upon a specific interpretation of natural law reasoning. At every one of the crucial points in HV,’s development of the moral argument (HV,4: the nature of marriage; 10: the objective moral order; 11 & 12: the intrinsic orientation; 14: the condemnations and intrinsic dishonesty; 16: periodic continence; and 17: the correct principle of totality) the basis for the proposed teaching is not the tradition on marriage but an interpretation of the natural law. While these two things are intimately bound together in the estimation of the author of HV, the virtual identification of the teaching on marriage with one specific theory of natural law led to the inevitable use of an act-centered approach that forgot the complex of realities and values present in the phenomenon of marriage. What is represented in HV as “the constant teaching of the church on the nature of marriage. and it acts” (HV,10) is little more than an application of one form of natural law reasoning to the use of sex which is very close to that employed by St. Thomas in his Summa Ia-IIae, q. 94, a. 2 (cf., HV,10, n. 9).

When we regard the actual teaching of HV on marriage, it appears that the working concept of the tradition to which appeal is made is basically that of Popes Pius XI and XII. Pius XI is referred to seven times (71) and references to eight different speeches of Pius XII are found twenty times.(72)

This naturally leads to a consideration of the status quaestionis during this period. As was already mentioned, the teachings of these two popes embodied the incorporation of a developing doctrine with regard to the role of sexual relations within marriage. Pius XI’s CC was the first official statement of the hierarchical magisterium that specifically recognized the value of conjugal intercourse which was known to be infertile, and the acceptance of the fact that no distinct procreative intention was necessary represented a definite development in the traditional teaching. So great was the impact of this encyclical that it was later, looked upon as a milestone in the church’s teaching on marriage, and one defender of the “constant teaching of the church” even referred to it as a “great turning point,”(73) as the first specific condemnation of contraception on the sole grounds of “every act of marriage remaining open to procreation.” What had effectively taken place with the promulgation of CC was the change for the grounds of the church’s teaching on the morality of sex in marriage. No longer was the end of procreation held up to be the only possible justification for conjugal sexual relations. Rather, it was now officially stated that the form of marital coitus was the norm for the moral judgment. What had been from the earliest times only a part of the overall teaching now became the centerpiece.(74)

Of course, it should be recognized that the substance of what is found in CC had already been present in the interpretation of official teaching for some time. The use of the designation of primary and secondary ends, for instance, was an ancient description. But it was only on the occasion of this papal encyclical that the official teaching recognized the legitimacy of realizing the secondary end of marriage when the primary end was known to be impossible.(75) It is true that this teaching received virtually unanimous acceptance within the Roman Catholic Church. But before we attribute this simply to the fact that the whole of the church willingly accepted the condemnation of contraception, as a number of reactions to HV have done, we must also recognize that the whole of the church accepted an evolution in the traditional teaching – and this probably because the now sanctioned change was already part of the general consensus (the “ordinary magisterium” embodied in the sensus fidelium). Nevertheless, this innovation seemed to cause more problems than it solved. For the next twenty years of theological discussions devoted much energy to determining whether Pius XI’s norm could in fact be interpreted to condone the morality of the practice of periodic continence: could a couple intentionally avoid the realization of the primary end of marriage and still continue to engage in infertile intercourse for the sake of expressing their love?

In October 1951, Pope Pius XII delivered his famous allocution to the Midwives which marked another step forward in the church’s teaching on marriage. It was at this point that the intentional practice of periodic continence was officially accepted to be morally licit (for serious reasons). Pius XII again reiterated the norm used by his predecessor, that “every act must remain open to the transmission of life,” and reinforced the utilization of the form of sexual relations as the criterion for moral judgment. In doing so, he again condemned contraceptive intercourse because it violated that norm. But again the same factors were present which surrounded the promulgation of CC: first, the teaching received wide acceptance within the church; secondly, that acceptance, was not attached to the moral condemnation exclusively but reflected an already present consensus that periodic continence can be morally licit; and thirdly, the enunciation of the papal position, led to new questions and further development.

The principle question which arose after 1951 and became more critical after the death of Pius XII was whether the church’s “new” teaching on. marital sexual relations, a teaching that condoned the use of sex in marriage while specifically avoiding the end of procreation, amounted to a de facto separation of the ends of marriage (and coitus). More specifically, if the official teaching recognized the licitness of following the natural rhythms to avoid conception, was it also licit either to “imitate” nature by extending the infertile period (steriod drugs) or to “improve upon” nature by ordering the natural power to procreate through other means (contraception)? It seems that Pope Pius XII was not willing to accept any more evolution in the teaching on marriage during the remainder of his pontificate, and until the end he upheld the use of the same norm, namely, the form of conjugal relations.(76)  But this does not mean that there was no progress within the general consensus, for the discussions, theological, medical and lay, continued to develop. We have already noted the diversity of thought that was typified in the implicit distinction between periodic continence and rhythm: while the former concentrated on the negative aspect of abstention from (fertile) intercourse, the latter took the anti-conceptive intention, very seriously. (77)

In order to understand the status quaestionis of the church’s teaching on regulating births, then, especially during the last fifty years, it is necessary to account for what was a genuinely developing tradition. The teachings of Popes Pius XI and XII should not be considered a complete and static doctrine on the theology of marriage and the morality of sexual relations. Rather, they were subtly but really changing conceptions of conjugal sexuality which were reflecting the wider and more rapid changes in the moral evaluation of this topic both throughout society and in the church’s own self-understanding. There was change going on at the level of sensus fidelium and being reflected in the speculations of theologians and pastoral ministers (including bishops). We have referred to that phenomenon as “consensus” and it would be futile to deny that the consensus failed to develop after the death of Pope Pius XII (1958).

When the bishops of the Anglican Church first accepted the possibility of the use of some forms of contraception in marital relations (Lambeth, 1930), they made reference to the norm of acting responsibly in taking the decision to procreate. Their own decision was neither unanimous (the vote was 193 to 67) nor binding upon the Anglican Church. Needless to say, their statement met with great opposition from the Catholic Church (both hierarchy and theologians); but when we realize that Lambeth 1930 was principally a recognition of a growing consensus in the Church of England which met even its own internal opposition, it might be more fair to say that the major difference between the two official positions was not so much the substance of the teaching but the degree of closeness to the sensus fidelium.(78)  The norms used in practical decision making were different from those taught in official statements, and even the 1930 statement of Lambeth did not develop or solve the theological problems concerning the norms to be employed. In that sense, one might say that although the Anglicans were closer to the level of practical decision making, the real development of christian tradition was taking place in the evolving teachings of Popes Pius XI and XII.(79)

With the pontificate of John XXIII and the opening of Vatican II came the expectation of further development in the official teaching on birth control. While discussion on that topic was being carried out independently, the preparation for the council included a good deal of attention to the statement of what came to be part of the Pastoral Constitution, GS, on the teaching on marriage. Although that document did not specifically address the question of the means for regulating birth it did officially recognize that the teaching on that question was undergoing reinvestigation and, more importantly, the fathers of the council incorporated into their document what seemed to be another step in the evolving tradition. Looking at GS, 47-52 from the perspective of the questions being asked with regard to the teaching of Pius XII on the matter and keeping in mind the fact that the traditional teaching was moving in a discernible direction, which in the minds of many theologians already recognized the separation of the ends of marital intercourse, we must ask the same question of this document that was being implicitly posed to the contemporary teaching: namely, what is the norm and fundamental criterion to be used in evaluating the morality of conjugal sexual relations? Pius XI officially recognized the substance of the norm to be no longer the procreative intention but the form of coitus; Pius XII incorporated into the norm the specific intentionality to avoid procreation and taught the criterion of form strictly on the basis of the natural law argumentation; GS took the development a step further, abandoned the natural law arguments and recognized the norm to be “responsible parenthood.” What had taken place was typical of the type of development which happens so often in official church teaching. GS did not deny the teaching of the previous popes, it simply developed it. Pope Pius XII had already elevated the importance of one’s moral intention in the question (one could avoid the primary end as long as there were serious reasons) and opened the door to further speculation. GS simply took this up, recast it in the structure of contemporary theology (responsible parenthood) and dropped a part of the previous teaching (the form of coitus as a moral criterion) because there were no longer any grounds to support its inviolability. At the same time, the council document re-affirmed every one of the values previously enunciated in the church’s traditional teaching. When it teaches that “the procreation and education of children” is one of the “missions of spouses” (GS,50), however, it does not tie this to any evaluation of single sexual acts; when it affirms the “basic fecundity of conjugal love” (GS,49), it does so only in a general way and removes it from an act-centered evaluation. Finally, the principle criterion offered for evaluating the moral decision of the couple with regard to “harmonizing conjugal love with the responsible transmission of life” (GS,51) is the “objective standards based upon the nature of the human person and his acts” (idem). The official statement of the traditional teaching, then, had taken one more step in recognizing the developing appreciation of conjugal chastity. Beginning with the basic acceptance of an ethics of intentionality (responsible parenthood) that reflected the position of Pius XII, GS had gone beyond the naturalistic criterion of the form of sexual relations in marriage and adopted the personalistic norm of the total human act based on the concept of human dignity as consistently put forth in that same document (cf. , GS, Part I, Ch. I, “The Dignity of the Human Person,” para. 12-22 and its application in the following development). This personalistic approach explains why, according to GS,47 “practices against human generation” are illicit when employed in an egoistic or hedonistic way: because they profane married love (cf., GS,48 and the Expensio in Modorum, Part II, p. 9).

When we ask the necessary question of the place of HV in the traditional teaching of the church, therefore, we must take into account the actual state of that tradition. The survey provided here is, of course, brief and schematic. It is open to further scrutiny by historians and theologians. But it should be judged according to the facts of the situation, some of which could not be evident until years afterward, as in the case of CC and the church’s own consensus of the matter of the post HV reflection. According to the outline given here, the place of HV with relation to the general consensus of traditional teaching would seem to occur sometime during the later part of the pontificate of Pius XII (before 1958);(80) its place in the real development of the official teaching of the traditional doctrine of marriage would be before the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.

B. The validity of the argumentation
HV,28 makes the statement that priests and moral theologians should give their assent to the teachings of the magisterium not because of the reasons offered but “because of the light of the Holy Spirit which the Pastors of the Church enjoy in a special way in explaining the truth.”(81) We have already mentioned that the reference to the “Pastors of the Church” here is, in respect to LG,25 cited in the footnote, a reference primarily to the bishops of the church. However, there is a passage in the conciliar text that does state that some judgments of the Roman Pontiff should be accepted because of the assistance of the Spirit and as such “do not need the approval of others.” But the whole text there reveals that this is meant to apply to definitions only, those things given in a solemn way with the full weight of papal authority.(82) The conciliar text to this effect cannot be said to apply to this encyclical nor to the teachings which it contains, for these have never been the object of solemn definitions.

Nevertheless, it was perhaps the occurrence of this phrase in HV that led some commentators to claim that the encyclical had to be accepted strictly on the grounds of its authoritative source and was immune from rational criticism. J. Costanzo judges the validity of HV on its origin from a “divinely established teacher.” (83)and wrote a long article to justify the pope’s role as the one final arbitor in the teaching of natural law morality.(84)  J. Mangan wrote that the pope “knew he would not have to rely on philosophical argumentation alone, but the Holy Spirit would be guiding him in a special way to make the right interpretation,” (85) and G. Lobo commented on the reaction to the teaching that one need not be convinced by it but only be able to see its reasonableness and let the authority and divine assistance of its source take care of the rest.(86)

This type of reasoning eventually went so far as to deny the very character of HV itself as a form of natural law argument and claim that it was not a philosophical statement at all but essentially a religious one. There is also the position that the value of HV rests not in its being only a papal statement but that it speaks for all those participating in the “ordinary teaching of the Church.”(88)

These opinions were not shared in all the reactions., however. It should be remembered especially that in issuing HV Pope Paul was teaching a doctrine for which he anticipated the assent of the faithful. LG,25 lists as one of the criterion for the type of assent necessary as “the character of the document” itself which naturally led to a good deal of exegesis on that point. For there was not only the theological problem present of integrating this encyclical with the whole of church teaching, but the practical difficulty for teachers and confessors who were expected to explain the teaching to the faithful who in turn were demanding more than arguments from authority. (89) Whereas the opinions above did not recognize any need for further argumentation and went so far as to declare the issue closed, many others felt that the very substance of the teaching invited competent, rational assessment.

Adrian Hastings observed that in HV Pope Paul did something “almost without parallel. He  attempted to lay down unchanging principles of morality without any reference to revelation.” (90) While the authority of the encyclical was based upon an appeal to its source, all of its argumentation rested in the philosophical principles of natural law reasoning. Also, since the statement is addressed to “all men of good will,” who do not always recognize the church’s intrinsic authority, it must be assumed that those persons would have some grounds for judging its validity. (91)This is true of any natural law statement because, by their very definition, such theses are made on the level of natural knowledge; they invite dialogue so that all men may share in determining and knowing the true content of the natural law.(92) In relation to this encyclical, the arguments put forth are clearly based upon that form of reasoning, and although Pope Paul attempted to broaden his position by appealing to the influence of revelation upon his interpretation of the natural law (HV,4), still the very basis of what is said is unambiguously expressed in terms of the latter category. This is “the area of human and rational wisdom,”(93) the statement of “a truth which is to be proven from human experience and arguments of reason.”(94)

Aside from the purely internal assessment of HV’s argumentation, we must also face the problem that even though various interpretations of the natural law may be put forth, could it not be said that this one, particular, papal endorsement of a given natural law interpretation which appeals to the church’s own tradition in the matter necessarily carried more weight than the alternate interpretations proposed? Of course, such an appeal presupposes that the traditional interpretation has not changed, and that itself was not always considered the case.(95) We have already raised the question of how HV relates to the entire tradition of church teaching. In the same way, we noted that any given statement of the magisterium must be seen in connection with all the other magisterial documents relevant to the matter spoken of.  Along these lines, Charles Giblin argues for a “benign interpretation” of the encyclical on the grounds that “every papal document must be taken in the total institutional context of Catholic teachings and, therefore, ultimately in the total context of the gospel itself.”(96)  While this returns to the basic theological argument that magisterial teaching must eventually relate to revelation itself, it again introduces the question of dialogue between different representatives of the magisterium, or, if this is viewed strictly in terms of hierarchical statements, the relation between the magisterium and theology.

Daniel C. Maguire quotes Pope Paul VI on the nature of this relationship from an address given to theologians on 1 October 1966. The substance of his thoughts at that time seemed to place very little importance in the nature of theological inquiry. Theology is convenient and useful for the magisterium, but it is not necessary. For the magisterium as he understands it, could achieve its task solely through its assistance from the Holy Spirit. (97) In the case of HV, this attitude became a problem for a number of theologians because they considered the bulk of the encyclical’s teaching to be presented in theological terms. The theologians of the Catholic University of America, who were forced to defend their right to dissent before a board of inquiry after their published reaction to HV, presented their case in part by attempting to define the relation between theological investigation and magisterial teaching. The two are inevitably linked through their subject matter, but they are independent in their methodology. The basis of the connection is the faith, but every expression of faith includes the use of theological concepts.(98)

The substance of the teaching of HV is not directly bound up with any explicit part of christian revelation.(99)  It is based upon an interpretation of natural law (HV,4) which Pope Paul himself believed that modern man could accept as humanly reasonable (HV,12). By making such appeals, the encyclical enters a realm of argumentation which cannot escape the limits of rational inquiry. Furthermore, the continuous references made to tradition and “the constant teaching of the church,” cannot help but elicit the comparison of its own teaching with that same tradition, which is the historical task of the theological sciences. To assert, therefore, that the internal assessment of HV’s arguments and the evaluation of its teaching on the strength of the reasons it provides is beyond the competence of rational inquiry and scientific theology is to remove the encyclical from the context of its own methodological approach to the entire question of regulating births and to isolate it from the tradition within which it stands.

Finally, it seems that the substance of the statement found in HV,28 should be approached carefully and judged in its own context. The paragraph itself is addressed solely to priests and teachers who are themselves participants in the magisterium of the church, though it would be questionable to say that Pope Paul thought of them as such. What he seemed to be saying was that his teaching should be simply passed on and unquestionably taught by those who were supposedly spokesmen for the hierarchy of the church and that this could be done with the confidence that the magisterium was not responsible for rationalizing the entire basis for the teaching. In an ideal situation, this would be a reasonable request and the appeal made to authority alone would probably go unchallenged. But as the situation developed, even members of the hierarchy, the bishops, had interpreted the encyclical broadly and even noted that it may be “unconvincing.” In light of that, the magisterium’s own precedent, it did not seem possible to deny that serious questions still needed to be asked.

III. The question of conscience

The question of conscience which became so important after the appearance of HV was actually twofold. On the one hand, there was the question of how the individual Catholic was to appropriate the norm being offered by the encyclical into his daily life. The emergence of this issue included a diversity of reactions that revealed sometimes quite different ideas about the nature of conscience and its decisions. It also make reference to the question of sin, objectively and subjectively speaking, and the role of objective norms in the formation of conscience. On the other hand, the question of conscience also related to how one reacted publicly to the encyclical, the degree of assent necessary or right to dissent possible with respect to teaching and interpreting the papal statement. This second aspect will be treated in the following section. Here we are mainly concerned with the assessment of one’s personal moral decision.

A. The notions of conscience
HV was a document that indirectly dealt with practical problems and everyday behavior for married couples. Though it did not address its teaching to this level, the substance of the document was quite explicit about the principles involved in ordinary moral decision making. From the perspective of the individual couple, its message necessarily related to their own private life and the choices they had to make. In that regard, they had to rely upon the dictates of their own individual consciences. But what was the relation between the norm proposed by this papal encyclical and the personal conscience decision? The answer to that question, occupied the minds of many bishops and theologians, and the subsequent reactions to HV included a good deal of speculation over that issue. Various interpretations of the role of conscience – and the related place of a norm or law in the formation of conscience – were found which revealed some divergent views about, how conscience itself operates. Thus, before we can attend to the relation of HV to the individual decision, we must ask what implicit understandings of conscience itself were being employed.

There are two very distinct positions on conscience which can be said to typify different conceptions of that phenomenon. On the one hand, there is the idea that conscience represents the purely subjective decision of the individual.(100) It is the means by which a person judges the moral worth of an immediately possible choice and it is most evident in a kind of spontaneous awareness that there is a prohibition present or an evil to be avoided. The area of this activity lies primarily in that of moral action. On the other hand, one finds the notion of conscience which includes the perception of value as an autonomous human faculty.(101)  In this conception, the individual is capable of judging good and evil, objectively as well as subjectively, and carries on a dialogue with other sources of moral wisdom in achieving that end. This activity thus includes perception and judgment as well as practical decision making and envelopes not only the tendency to avoid evil but the realization of positive moral duties.

The first position is held by most all those reactions to HV which consider the substance of that document to be “morally binding.” According to this reasoning, the encyclical provides a value judgment which is insured by the strength of its authoritative source, and the individual acts to appropriate that judgment and translate it into concrete action. In these circumstances, a person is responsible for the decision (for action) which is made, but he is not directly involved in the process of determining objective standards. The objective rectitude of the personal conscience is therefore judged according to its congruence with the objective norm; the subjective responsibility of a person is determined in light of his willingness to follow the norm which has been appropriated. Therefore, one can speak quite separately of a conscience which is right or wrong and a con- science which is sincere or false.(102)

The application of this form of reasoning to the specific case of regulating births according to the norms found in HV distinguishes between a correct and an erroneous conscience according to the degree to which the offered norms were appropriated, and a good and bad conscience according to how one followed the dictate of his perception. A person could therefore have an erroneous conscience and still be acting sincerely (a parallel in classical terms would be “invincible ignorance”) whereas a person who was fully aware of the teaching would have no recourse other than to follow the norm or to be considered acting in bad conscience and thus incurring subjective guilt.(103) A particular difficulty occurred in the application of this perspective when it met the argument of the “conflict of duties.” On the one hand, there was the admission that one could appreciate the norm given in the encyclical, at least as a dictate of authority which demanded respect; and on the other, there was the claim of the perception of an equally demanding norm emanating from a different source (e.g., the experience of the family situation or an interpretation of the notion of responsible parenthood). It would be indicative of this idea of conscience to say that such a conflict was a purely subjective phenomenon and that decisions taken to follow a norm other than that found in HV were the result of an (objectively) erroneous conscience.(104)

There is a striking similarity between this first view of conscience and the more traditional approach that distinguished between two faculties in the process of moral decision making: that of perceiving good and evil and that of deciding in favor of one or the other. The first was called synderesis and was considered incorruptible, i.e., one was always capable of knowing right from wrong though one could still be hindered by an ignorance of the facts. The other was more properly called “conscience” and referred to the urge to do good and avoid evil, which, however, could be corrupted. While this separation of two faculties in the consideration of conscience has been largely abandoned in contemporary moral theology, it has left a residue in moral thinking which had an influence in the evaluation of this particular issue – one that involved the clear dictate of a moral norm from an authoritative source and the demand for almost daily personal moral decisions for many of the faithful.

D.von Hildebrand writes that “conscience does not instruct us about whether something is morally good or evil; rather this question must be answered before conscience can speak.”(105) In what closely approximates the separation spoken of above, this author clearly sees the role of conscience to be a purely subjective one. As such, the process of arriving at moral norms, as opposed to appropriating them, lies almost totally outside the individual person. This attitude gives a very broad latitude to the competence of external authority to form the content of personal  decisions.(106) V.-A. Berto refers to the encyclical as “the proximate norm of conscience,” which cannot be violated without the occurrence of sins. (107) Some commentators appear to be saying the same thing but are unaware of the distinctions.(108) Still others do not articulate their notions of conscience but their attitude toward the norm itself was indicative of the problem.

Karl Rahner’s much quoted article on HV left the door completely open with regard to the exact status of the papal norm, but his lengthy development of evaluating the response of conscience was sometimes used to serve the framework we have just described.(109) This generally took the form of concentrating on the personal appropriation of the norm and was aimed primarily at the pastoral problem of teaching and administering the sacrament of Penance.  John Dedek, for instance, distinguished between a theoretical and an evaluative knowledge of the norms and allows that while one may intellectually know what the encyclical says, he may not be able to appropriate it. (110) This approach was similar to that used by a number of bishops. Basically, it seeks to protect the papal norm while dealing with a very difficult pastoral situation in which a significant number of people felt that they could not follow it. While this may not necessarily be attributed to the notion of conscience exposed here, it did not do a great deal of justice to the consciences of couples who felt that their practical dissent was more than a purely subjective decision founded upon invincible ignorance.

There was, however, another view of conscience operative in the reactions to HV that considered the faculty to be an integrated one, encompassing the perception of objective norms as well as the individual decision. This would allow for the fact that even though one norm was offered as objective and deserving of respectful consideration because of its source, there was a possibility of other, perhaps conflicting, norms which had to be seriously taken into account. As mentioned, the individual is then seen to be in constant dialogue with all sources of moral wisdom. J.C. Gerber, for example, saw the relation between the church and the moral agent not as one of conflict but as one of “both…and.” For if the two are seen as competing, one would be forgetting that both are involved in the human condition and are- helping each other to seek truth. (111) This does not undermine church authority but rather attempts to reinstate the proper role of individual responsibility.

It is only this view of conscience which can take the conflict of duties argument seriously. It also places a good deal of weight upon the experience of couples who are directly involved in making practical decisions with respect to controlling births. Rather than starting with abstract principles, it seeks the truth inherent in moral situations which may not always be obvious to the uninvolved observer. As such, it engages the cooperation of all christians and complements the task of theology in elaborating norms.(112) That task is, of course, carried out in dialogue with church authority, but in a situation such as that of HV, in which no reference was made to the role of personal conscience, the theologian may have an added responsibility. Frederick E. Crowe observed that while the well educated of the modern world may have had little problem in living with the encyclical, there was a special responsibility for the theologian to help all the people of God, especially “the ‘poor’ among them – that is, the uninstructed, the bewildered, the heavy-burdened.”(113) Those in such conditions do not always realize that even though a very explicit norm has been proposed, there is still a responsibility, to make a decision in conscience. When HV was issued, a number of bishops drew attention to this fact in a very vocal way. In doing so, they helped to make up for a lack in the encyclical itself and to restore the balance in the teaching authority of the church. Again, it would be unfair to accuse the encyclical of not doing what it had not set out to do. But the absence of any mention of the role of conscience in that document, which was addressed to all christians and proposed to set forth a moral teaching of the church, can only be interpreted to mean that its author did not consider conscience to be a relevant issue – at least in the perception of moral norms.

B. The norm as morally binding
In Part III of the encyclical, Pope Paul did give some attention to the difficulty he anticipated many couples would have in following the teaching. At the same time, he reminded us that the church “could do nothing other than teach the law (legem) which is really the same (law) of human life restored to its original truth and enacted by the Spirit of God” (HV,19).(114) While it is the unmistakable intention of this papal statement to attribute the explicit precisions made in the encyclical directly to the will of God, we should not forget that even the author’s claims on the rights of the magisterium of the church (HV,4) do not go beyond the function of interpretation. The natural law, equated with the divine intention through the act of creation, is here explained in a very specific way and proposed to all the faithful as a norm for conduct and thus a datum for conscience. It appears that, this norm is being laid down with the same force as that of God’s own will. But that position, though it has its advocates, stands in need of a considerable amount of nuance.

One can speak of many different kinds of law, divine, evangelical, natural, ecclesial, civil, etc., all of which have their own substance and force when confronted by conscience. The law most dealt with in the encyclical is the natural which is alternately referred to as the natural law, the moral law, the moral order and the right order. As noted, the (papal) magisterium has claimed for itself the right to interpret this natural law, but it has also distinguished this category from that of evangelical law (HV,4). Because these are different, the level of competent interpretation and subsequent binding force must also be different, for various laws must be said to reveal the will of God in various ways.(115) The degree of exactness with which different laws can be translated into a practical norm for conscience, therefore, is correlative to their capability of revealing the will of God or, to place it on more rational grounds, the purity of their relation with the objective standard of truth.(116) Before we can approach the position of the natural law in this scheme, a word on the general episcopal teaching may be helpful.

One tendency of the bishops’ reactions to HV is to characterize the teaching as a “general rule” or “guide” for individual conscience rather than a law or determinative norm.(117)  In doing so, frequent reference is made to the conciliar teaching, LG,25, on the role of bishops (and the pope) in teaching the church. HV,28 makes reference to the same text in soliciting obedience to the teachings of the magisterium, and a number of commentators have already pointed out that this conciliar teaching has allowed only for those things which are directly connected with revelation.(118) In a more relevant passage, however, the bishops of Vatican II specifically address the competence of the magisterium of the church in relation to its teaching on birth control in particular.

In their manner of acting, spouses should be aware that they cannot proceed arbitrarily. They must always be governed according to a conscience dutifully conformed to the divine law itself, and should be submissive toward the Church’s teaching office, which authentically interprets that law in the light of the gospel. That divine law reveals and protects the integral meaning (j>|:g conjugal love, and impels it toward a truly human fulfilment.(119)

The citation of the divine law here is generally neglected in commentaries on both GS and HV. It should be pointed out, however, that the divine law is not necessarily the same as the natural law and that it is usually related, as here, to evangelical law. Generally speaking, it refers to God’s ruling of the universe both through his Divine Providence and his specific revelation.(120) The church, which is the interpreter of that revelation, has the task of explaining what is contained in the message of scripture. But can the magisterium still be said to have a direct insight into the will of God who rules the universe and claim the ability to determine laws which have no direct relation with scripture?

The relation of natural law to this scheme should be approached carefully before one assigns its interpretation the role of laws to govern behavior. The natural law, though traceable to the creative act of God, is nevertheless a mediated concept. As such it is dependent upon various factors, from perception to rational analysis, all of which enter into the determination of what natural law may signify. The specific reference of HV (10, n. 9) for instance, to Thomas’ interpretation of the natural law (Ia-IIae, q. 94, a. 2) tells only part of the story. It is true that here Thomas interprets the Ulpian dictate to be determinative for assessing the goal of human sexuality (“what nature teaches all animals”), namely, the procreation and education of offspring. But what is the force of this observation and how can it relate to conscience? If we ask for the simple criterion of consistency in applying natural law, we would have to look elsewhere than Thomas’ sexual ethics. (121) For natural law itself is present on many levels, the highest of which is determined by reason.

If we refer to the same text of the Summa as does HV, we find that Thomas draws from the natural law a series of observations. What is common to all things is self-preservation – what we may refer to today as the value of life itself for living things. But this most basic of values, more fundamental even than what nature teaches all animals, does not yet dictate a law the violation of which automatically constitutes a moral evil. To arrive at moral norms, man in his specificity must operate on the rational level, for reason alone can reveal what is morally right or wrong. Thus even the most fundamental of values, life itself, can be contradicted in order to achieve a moral end (e.g., self-defence and, in Thomas’ thinking, capital punishment). Therefore, the various learnings we achieve from the observance of the natural law do not approach the level of moral norms until we reach the level of man’s specific (rational) integration of the values evident in nature (natural law) according to the order which is uniquely human (cf., GS,51: personae eiusdemque actuum natura). Each of the values existing in nature independently of their appropriation into the moral order (conscience) make up the data from which norms are ultimately derived. They are objective, available to all, and because nature is created, intended by God. But they do not of themselves constitute moral laws.

Today, many theologians prefer to speak of norms rather than laws, for the latter category too easily connotes the idea of absolutes and inviolability.(122) The norms which are appropriated by man m the exercise of conscience are not equated to the natural law but are derived from it through the use of reason. The facts of nature (life, procreation) are recognized by man as values and enunciated as norms (protect life, do not kill; respect the integrity of sex, do not contradict the value of procreation) . These norms then become guidelines to be employed in making moral decisions (conscience) , and only in this sense, may they be referred to as morally qualified norms. But they are still only guidelines; they are not, in and of themselves, determinative of the moral order which must admit of more than the observation of values. For values must be recognized, appropriated, compared with other values (and disvalues) and related to the specific situation of acting before they can be considered as morally determining norms of behavior. The most fundamental value of life, for instance, must be integrated into a moral order of justice; the value of procreation must be integrated into the individual marriage situation, as well as the moral order of justice.

When we examine the teaching of HV, we see a very different approach being offered. First, it is implied that the competence to interpret the evangelical law and the natural law are the same. This is done without noticing that the conciliar texts specifically referred to (LG,25 and GS, 50-1) do not offer the same scope of interpretation. Then, the natural law is interpreted in such a way that the norms derived (moral order, right order, etc.) are considered to be immediately, morally binding. In this way, the norms which have been formed from the natural order by reason are invested with a character they do not enjoy outside a human context of recognition, appropriation, application and concretization. There is an unexplained transition made between value recognition and norms for concrete behavior, between the observation of a specific value and the assumption of an entire moral order.

There is a tendency in the reaction to the encyclical to say that Pope Paul has not intended the proposed teaching to be a specific and absolute rule for moral behavior. Kelly writes that “the encyclical is propounding moral teaching; it is not enacting a law,”(123) and Arthur Janssen, “he was content with the affirmation and the proclamation of a general norm and a declaration of principle. He did not descend to the consideration of details.” (124) But we may ask if this “benign interpretation”(125) is really applicable to HV. Such an outlook has an operative, view of conscience quite different from that of the author of the encyclical, for even the elaboration of a moral order was still considered general and not necessarily determinative of behavior.(126) In contrast, HV refers to contraception as semper illicitum (HV,16; cf. para. 14) and makes a rather definite case against its use. If this is the objective situation, then, what is the relation between this teaching and the possible commission of sin?

C. The question of sin
Very few reactions stated that the practice of contraception was equivalent to a de facto sin. Those who did, made no reference to the passage of HV,25 about sin holding power over individuals,(127) but spoke instead of a purely natural law evaluation. Felix Bak, for instance, simply referred to contraception as “gravely sinful” because it violated the natural order, (128) and Dietrich von Hildebrand calls it a sin of irreverence to God, a denial of our creaturehood, similar in character to suicide and euthanasia.(129) Perhaps the most curious advocate of this position is Guy de Broglie who, in a long footnote, distinguished between the sins of those who avoid having children but use natural means and those who practice contraception. The former, he says, may, without excusing reasons, be guilty of a “failure toward the virtue of chastity,” but the latter would be guilty of the “sin of luxury,” for they use a faculty only for pleasure and not for its proper function.(130)

This type of reasoning, however, is rather extrinsic to HV which does not make a direct connection between contraception and sin. (131) As such, the encyclical has truly made a great step forward from CC which made that relation explicit. But we are still confronted with the problem of determining exactly what Pope Paul intended by this teaching.(132) On the one hand, he rules out the applied arguments of totality and the choice of a lesser of two evils, and designated artificial means of regulating birth to be against the moral order (HV,14) and always illicit (HV,16). But on the other, he appears to be tolerant of a good deal of recidivism in the matter (HV, 20, 21, 25) and advises confessors to be understanding of couples (HV,29). It almost appears that Pope Paul wished to re-affirm a law but did not expect many couples to follow it, that he was looking for intellectual rather than practical assent.

Like many of the bishops, theologians chose to speak of conscience rather than of some sort of objective sin. With few exceptions, even those who accepted the validity of the norms proposed by HV considered those teachings to be prior to concrete application. Some went further to point out the cultural and historical relativity of those norms,(133) but the more cautious attitude simply stressed the fact that Pope Paul was not addressing the concrete situations of marriage and did not propose to take every factor into account. Further, it should be pointed out that the encyclical nowhere speaks of “grave matter,” and its recognition of the difficulties of the modern family, the problems foreseen for the teaching’s acceptance and the “burden” of married couples (HV,25) would seem to eliminate the possibility of “full’ intention” necessary for grave sin. At- most, then, one may be speaking of a relatively small offense with respect to the practice of contraception, at least in terms of a strict reading of HV.

Reflecting upon the pastoral situation, this manner of approach used in HV is regretful. Of course, it is normal for the hierarchical church to proceed in this way, subtly changing previous statements of the magisterium more by omission than by contradiction. With the exception of a very few legalistic theologians, virtually no one considers contraception to constitute grounds for serious sin any longer, and in comparing HV to CC, it seems we would have to include Pope Paul among the many. -Certainly a large number of bishops are of the same opinion, even specifically teach-ing that Penance is unnecessary for couples who decide in conscience that artificial birth control is their only course of acting responsibly. But I feel a mistake was made here in not being more explicit on the matter. Regardless of the pope’s reminder in HV,29 that the ministers of the church should be “tolerant and charitable” as our Divine Savior, too many priests are still preaching on the evil of contraception and even refusing absolution for those who persist in the practice yet seek the forgiveness of Confession. Those who have acted on the subtle changes in official teaching, however, are trapped in a dilemma. For as the Vatican continues speaking on the evil and immorality of contraception, they have been forced to admit that the possible fault involved is not serious, that couples should not feel guilty and that the sacraments should not be abandoned because of a definite resolve to practice it. The absurd situation has come about in which the official church has condemned a practice that it realized millions of Catholics are using, and the local church is encouraged to represent that official position (134)when it may believe things to be otherwise. The result is that the faithful are taught that something is (morally) wrong, yet they are allowed to engage in it. With the simple catechism training that most people have, they cannot, help but connect the concept of moral wrongness with that of sin. Thus, regardless of semi-official commentaries and the attempt of theologians to enlighten them, many people are hearing that contraception is a sin but they should not feel guilt over a responsible decision to use it. In such a way, the official teaching of HV both offends the well educated and burdens the simple, and, in the final analysis, trivializes the very concept of sin, since it seems to suggest not only a distinction, but a separation between objective and subjective morality.

IV. HV in the public forum
A. The question of assent
When HV,29 calls upon priests to faithfully teach its doctrine and give internal and external assent to the magisterium of the church, it refers to the whole of LG,25. Though we have already pointed out that the meaning of this source is essentially bound up with the bishops and with the teaching office of the whole church, it is appropriate at this point to attend to the specific passage quoted and referred to in so many reactions on the assent due to the teaching of the Roman Pontiff. (135) The text states:

Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent of soul. This religious submission of will and of mind must be shown in a special way to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathdra. That is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known chiefly either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.(136)

This passage calls for “religious assent of the soul” and immediately explains that to be “religious submission of will and of mind” that should also be given to the non-solemn teaching of the pope when he exercises his “authentic magisterium.” The way in which such assent is given is by respectfully recognizing his authority and adhering to his judgments “according to his manifest mind and will.” The way in which one interprets this passage depends a good deal upon how one reads the whole of LG.(137) Since we have already dealt with that context, we will attend to two specific questions here, the type of assent necessary for papal statements and the manifest intention of Pope Paul VI in this matter.

The phrase “religious assent (submission) of will and of mind” is a technical one, the meaning of which is substantively related to the object of one’s assent. Various degrees of “truths” are proposed by the church which demand proportionate degrees of acceptance and assent on the part of the faithful. To speak of “religious assent,” therefore, can mean many things according to the level of truth (degree of certainty) involved. (138) The highest of these is “divine truth” which demands the complete and unreserved assent of “divine faith” and deals with directly revealed truths (found in scripture and thus coming from God) and those things solemnly and infallibly taught to be part of revelation. From this category, the degrees of certainty decrease through “Catholic truths,” “truths necessary for the maintenance of the faith,” etc., all of which demand a correspondingly decreasing level of assent. Truths which are only proximate to the faith, for instance, are not as crucial as those which are considered necessary to maintain the faith, and are thus less demanding of assent. While the “proximate” category should elicit general acceptance for teachings proposed by the magisterium, there is already a wide range of theological interpretation present so that the notion of assent is broadly applied.

When we apply this understanding to the teaching proposed in HV, we encounter a level of certainty which is not directly connected with the faith. While the encyclical does contain some affirmations which are truly part of Catholic faith in general (e.g., that matrimony is a sacrament instituted by God, HV,8), the main topic of one interpretation of natural law to determine an objectively true moral dictate is, at most, the product of one theological tradition which developed alongside the teaching of Catholic faith. It is not proposed with any degree of solemnity nor explicitly taught to be necessary for the integrity of the faith. The fact that Pope Paul connects the teaching with “tradition” is insufficient to warrant any connection with statements of faith; for tradition refers to the entire range of truth as well, from Catholic faith to disciplinary matters which are fundamentally changeable. To assert that this teaching is a traditional one begs for interpretation and further investigation which we have already indicated.

It should not be too quickly concluded that this approach will inevitably lead to a minimalist interpretation of the assent due to (this particular) papal teaching. It is necessary to point out, however, that we are not dealing with a simple case of “official teaching calling for automatic assent.” Generally speaking, when the magisterium teaches, the faithful should respond. But in this case, in which the assent of the faithful and especially of theologians was not automatically forthcoming, we have seen some commentaries which have invoked the “officialness” and “authenticity” of the teaching to demand that all in the church must give their clear and total assent. When one attempts to argue this on theological grounds, however, it becomes evident that such is not the case. For levels of assent and degrees of certainty cannot be determined without some objective analysis.

The scientific examination of HV’s teaching on the morality of regulating births reveals that the basis of argumentation and the conclusions put forth rely heavily on a philosophical interpretation of natural law and a commentary on the data found in reality. It has been argued, then, that the basis for one’s assent to the teaching is relevant to the extent to which its substance can be shown to be objectively true.(139)  When, for  instance, HV,11 affirms the presence of “natural rhythms for separating the succession of births,” one is not obliged to accept this as true if the biological facts contradict the assertion. This may be evident to the ordinary layperson and more especially to the gynaecologist. But when Pope Paul states that “every use of marriage whatsoever must remain destined of itself to the transmission of life,” we encounter an assertion which is not so evidently comparable to objective facts. Here a different form of analysis will be necessary, one which involves ethical and historico-theological investigation. But the assertion itself does not preclude the legitimate response of simply asking “why?”

The assent which is due to the specific moral teaching of HV is relevant to its degree of certainty. The encyclical itself claims no absolute certainty for its own conclusions and prefers to present its teaching as “reasonable” (HV, 12 & 16). When the layperson, and especially the theologian, therefore, seeks to determine the degree of assent which is due this teaching, he must take into account all the possible avenues open to establishing what certainty it may exhibit. One manner of approach will consider the source, and a papal teaching is of course to be taken seriously. But another, equally important, consideration is the content. In the case of HV, the nature of its content is extremely important. Regardless of some overly generous commentaries, in all fairness to Pope Paul IV, it must be recognized that he does not propose this teaching to be explicitly part of, or even proximately connected to, the Catholic faith.

This leads to our second consideration, on “the manifest mind and will” of the pope in eliciting adherence to his judgments. This can be known “from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.” It has already been pointed out that the document itself contains no elevation in the status of its teaching. If anything, comparison with CC indicates that the certainty of its practical application has been decreased because of the omission of the connection with grave sin.(140)   On the other hand, in spite of the volume of negative response which HV received, Pope Paul has continued to repeat his teaching through the Roman congregations. The inevitable question, then, is what the author of HV precisely wants the church to accept in this teaching? What is his manner of speaking?

John McHugh has proposed in his analysis of the authority of HV the application of Franzelin’s interpretation of religious assent.(141) Briefly, this is distinguished from “the assent of faith” and applies to the teaching of the pope in his function of safeguarding the faith and judging what is secure and what is dangerous teaching. In the instance of a papal statement with regard to a non-infallible teaching which is under discussion, the essence of an equally non-infallible papal decision is related to what the pope has determined to be “safe” teaching, and naturally to his decision that the opposite point of view has not been proven. This does not mean that the perspective which differs from the papal decision is untenable, but only that he does not believe it to be appropriate to constitute the teaching of the entire church. McHugh eventually reasons to a position broadly admitting the real possibility of withholding assent from the encyclical on both objective and subjective grounds,(142) and in doing so refers to a number of “approved authors” on the conditional character of assent due to non-infallible teaching.(143)

If we approach HV with this interpretation in mind and ask what may be indicative in Pope Paul VI’s “manner of speaking” in the encyclical, our attention is drawn to the prominent reasons which he himself indirectly puts forth for his decision. Two specific ideas are striking in this regard. Negatively, the curious insertion of para. 17 on the “evil consequences” of admitting the use of artificial birth control seems to be saying that the simple acceptance of these methods would have implications upon the entire field of human sexual behavior. Positively, the only criterion offered for evaluating conjugal sexual relations is “the constant teaching of the church,” i.e., the tradition which had been not only present but developing and changing even in Paul VI’s own subtle omissions; in short, what he considered to be “safe.” In other words, I suggest that the teaching proposed for our “religious assent” is not the specific ban on contraception but the entire framework of the church’s teaching on sexual morality as Pope Paul conceived it. The degree of assent due to the teaching is twofold, according to an interpretation of LG,25: we must acknowledge the right of the papal magisterium to teach, and we must accept the integrity of the church’s teaching on sexual morality. The first is an assent in principle and is, of itself, qualified by the object proposed for acceptance and its connection with the faith. The second constitutes an entire body of teaching ranging from the affirmation of essential values to specific propositions of natural (law) morality. While the values put forth have a clear relation to “the constant teaching,” the natural law statements are more open to rational inquiry because of the evident historical development in natural law theory within the church itself. To the extent that one can maintain the integrity of the whole teaching of the church and demonstrate the reasonableness of an alternative approach to the specific natural law reasoning used in the encyclical (that would not endanger the faith or the teaching as a whole), it does not seem that one is bound to assent to what is simply a supportive argument.  For the framework of Pope Paul’s specific teaching was itself in a state of development and is proposed only as safe rather than certain.

B. The right to dissent
The nuances which have been applied to the nature of one’s assent to papal teaching in this instance do not directly threaten the authority of the pope to teach. Rather, one may justly argue, I believe, that they serve to protect the papal magisterium from claims of overextension by properly understanding the field of competence ascribed to that office. The right of papal teaching to demand assent is directly related to the degree of certainty inherent in that teaching itself. In the area of moral teaching this becomes particularly crucial because of the corresponding obligation on the part of the faithful to act according to conscience. To the extent that the magisterium can guarantee the objective truth of a given teaching, one is obliged to act upon that truth; and to the extent that such guarantees are not provided, one is obliged to continue the search for truth. The fact is that the status of the substantive moral prohibitions in HV are invested with a relatively low level of certainty, hardly going beyond what is considered to be “safe” teaching in the mind of its author, and that conscience is in no way charged with the demand to act as if the teaching itself were infallible. Thus, beyond the need to reverently acknowledge the papal magisterium and to seriously consider the meaning of its teaching, conscience is still free to continue any investigation necessary to arrive at a responsible moral decision.(144)

But what about the right to publicly express one’s opinion which may differ from the papal teaching? Does the right to withhold complete assent in the matter of non-infallible teaching extend to the public forum and if so, under what conditions? The guidance of former commentaries on this question is not always helpful because those have been oriented to dogmatic statements rather than moral propositions.(145) Furthermore, the traditional teaching on the right to dissent was applied almost exclusively to theological discussion in a world which did not enjoy rapid and wide communication. Under those conditions, “outspoken” theological dissent, though often more direct, was more broadly tolerated and frequently contributed a great deal to the formulation of teaching.(146)

The reactions to HV include the total rejection of any possibly valid theological opinion that dissents from this papal teaching(147) and even offers that dissent is “a complete denial of the church’s teaching authority.”(148)  A less radical position admits the possibility of dissent but restricts it to theologians engaged in professional research and responsible publication.(149) But even this appears more restrictive than the position of many bishops on the matter of theoretical dissent. For a significant number of episcopal statements on the encyclical recognized guidelines for acting upon a differing opinion.(150)  In the same line of reasoning, Karl Rahner appealed to bishops to be self-critical, preachers to respect the rights of conscience, theologians to present both sides of the question and laypersons to continue in making decisions on the level of conscience which do not necessarily have to be reviewed.(151)

The volume of negative theological response to the encyclical, though generally responsible and respective of the papal teaching office, had to deal with the problem of scandal for the faithful who may have misinterpreted such an open exchange of opinion. Richard McCormick commented that because of the potential harm to the credibility of the magisterium from public dissent, “the dissenter must show that the good to be achieved is at least proportionate to the foreseeable harm.” (152) But the opposite opinion was also put forth, namely, that the absence of responsible, yet clear dissent from the papal teaching was equally harmful to the credibility of the church’s magisterium as a whole. Bernard Haring poses the question of the “consequences of silence” with respect to a teaching that so many of the faithful felt unable to integrate into conscience.(153) Is there not an equal possibility of scandal when the problems of the faithful are not taken into account in public dialogue or, in some local cases, when there is no freedom granted for voicing what is already public knowledge because of “enforced clerical consensus”?(154)  Indeed, attitudes exhibiting either irresponsible dissent or the denial of valid theological response are regretable because they forget the duty to serve all in the church and to preserve the respect due to the valid teaching office. For if the pursuit of truth is the object of that office and the means for the continuing search for that truth are denied, no one will benefit from the result.

The resolution of the problem of dissent is possibly best handled by a closer attention to the notion of service. In respect to the service to the church as a whole, it should be recognized that the particular teaching of HV involves problems of immediacy and practical implications for the daily lives of millions of the faithful who have a right to know  that the question of conscience is not solved simply by a papal pronouncement.

These couples should be informed of valid theological dissent which can only be achieved through the public forum. In respect to service to the magisterium, the traditional posture toward non-infallible statements is one of continuing study and reflection. It is only through free scholarship and open dialogue that truth in the objective sense can be arrived at. Since such statements are by their nature open to revision and correction, the process of discussion must be carried on.(156) Lest it be misunderstood that truth itself is not the object of magisterial statements, that discussion should be as open as possible.

C. The evaluation of reaction
Whatever one’s opinions on the questions of assent to and dissent from the teaching of HV, the fact remains that both the reaction to that encyclical involved a number of attitudes and the opinions of large numbers of people were expressed candidly and vocally. The fact of the reaction cannot be ignored, though the significance it may hold for the teaching church can still go unappreciated.(157) We will take up that question in the final section, but first we will consider how the actual state of affairs appeared to the commentators. This is a kind of “reaction to the reaction” that will be divided into three areas: that of the bishops, the theologians and the faithful.

1. The episcopal response
It would be impossible to judge the response of the bishops to HV without some means of comparison. This must involve not only the specific reference to how bishops and episcopal conferences react and have reacted in the past to various papal teachings, including encyclicals, but also an appreciation of the role of bishops in a general ecclesiological context. Though such a work remains to be accomplished with the rigour of scientific analysis, some general remarks can still be made in reference to this specific case.

The statements of bishops which we have analyzed exhibited a broad range of interpretation and guidance for the implementation of HV that often surpassed the spirit of that document if not its literal meaning. While we noted that the bishops were specifically requested by the Vatican (Card. Cicognani’s letter) to teach and explain the doctrine put forth in the encyclical, their response became rather active and vocal. A significant number of episcopal conferences devoted special efforts to respond to HV, often holding specific meetings and issuing formal statements on the encyclical. A number of those statements were subsequently published and became part of the official teaching of the church on the matter of regulating births. Some of those reactions simply restated the teaching while others offered broad interpretive guidance. But all of them, by their very existence and usually in their specific teaching, recognized the existence of definite problems caused by the encyclical either in its practical application or its place in authoritative teaching.

It appears that this situation was rather unique in the recent history of official church teaching. Undoubtedly, the implications of the teaching for the lives of the majority of faithful had a great deal to do with the volume and type of episcopal response. But to see only this as an explanation is rather shortsighted. The very fact that so many bishops took an active role in interpreting a papal encyclical implies that the nature of that pronouncement, if not its content, was inadequate to represent the entire teaching of the church. HV simply could not stand on its own and gain the recognition necessary to become part of what the church believes and practices. Its teaching did not represent the sensus fidelium and the bishops knew that it could not establish it. Instead of attempting to bring about that situation, a number of bishops compromised by inserting HV into a context that the document itself neither had nor endeavored to represent. They said that the encyclical was a part of the church’s teaching, that it represented the values expressed in the traditional doctrine and that it had to be studied and taken seriously as the expression of authoritative teaching. They did not say that it was the only word on the subject or that the question of conscience was thereby solved. Even those bishops who gave their complete support to HV and encouraged the faithful to follow its teaching did not declare the matter closed.

Richard McCormick characterizes the reactions of many bishops to HV as a kind of “pastoral contextualizing.”(158) The attempt of those bishops represented a new approach to the notion of hierarchical authority in the church, one that was begun in the work of Vatican II and took concrete shape in their response to this papal encyclical. At least one commentary on the situation saw this entire incident as a good sign, writing that “Humanae Vitae may well have done more to mature the Church than many of the encyclicals that preceded it.”(159)  For in taking up the practical problem of a conflict between authority and pastoral practice, most bishops responded with as much attention to their pastoral office as to their role in the hierarchical magisterium.

Of course, the degree to which this was done was not in the least unanimous, for bishops still chose authority over practical difficulties and even over consistency. Some bishops who had been tolerant of an open approach to contraception previous to the promulgation of HV insisted upon the correctness and absolute implementation of its teachings after the pope had spoken.(160) Others chose simply to align themselves with authority while mitigating the problems that they knew were pressing upon the pastoral situation.(161) This contrasted with what seemed to be a general cautiousness on the part of most episcopal response, (162) but in its own way it indicated a basic problem which was undeniably present. The highest authority of the church and large segments of the faithful simply were not communicating. The bishops found themselves in the middle of this problem.

The assessment of this situation sometimes tried to impose a strictly hierarchical view of church authority in which the bishops were themselves strictly subordinate to and taught by the pope.(163) Following this, some reactions were severely critical of episcopal representation of papal teaching.(164) But another view of the church saw the role of the bishops as completely integrated into the teaching process itself. They were active participants in the formation of teaching as well as its promulgation; and their response to the encyclical constituted a form of post- factum collegiality.(165) The concept of collegiality received some attention in the reactions to HV, especially in the reflections of Gregory Baura and Bernard Haring.(166)  Both these authors trace the problems in this particular case back to Vatican II when Pope Paul removed the topic of birth control from discussion. At the time, it seemed that this act was not a complete closure, for the Commission became the vehicle for dialogue, where many bishops were both members and represented by others, and a good number of bishops believed that the papal solicitation of their opinions would be taken seriously before a statement was issued. As it turned out, Pope Paul chose to make a decision on the matter completely by himself. The result was an inevitable criticism that the collegial process had been thwarted. For if that doctrine means anything, it involved the office of teaching.(167)   In he end, the reactions of the bishops to HV showed that they themselves still believed in the collegial process, and the substance of their response went well beyond a simple conformity to the papal encyclical.(168)

2. The theological debate
The volume of reaction to HV involved not only a direct response to that document but a discussion of the related issues which became important during the controversy. We have already reviewed those discussions as well as their debated degree of importance in relation to magisterial teaching. Here we only call attention to the fact that, after the bishops, the consideration of assent and dissent from the theological community occupies a significant place in the evaluation of church teaching. This is not to say that theologians are a substitute for the magisterium as it is understood in some quarters. Nor is it to propose that doctrine is or should be accepted on the basis of theological reaction. Rather, one cannot speak of any historical sense of the church without recognizing the place of the theologians in its continual doctrinal progress. The contributions of theologians have been both positive and negative through history, sometimes helping to build and sometimes to correct teaching even of the official magisterium. In the case of controversy, the very nature of the science, using the tools of rational reflection and basing itself upon the traditional teaching and methods of the church, lends itself to the opportunity of objective study.

The nature of the science, however, has not always been embodied in the specific work of every individual theologian. There has been error, even heresy and schism, in the past; and there has been irresponsible reaction to this particular encyclical. But to concentrate on that is to miss the point of the role theology should play in the church’s self-understanding. Many reputable and responsible theologians have commented on HV and it would be foolish to ignore the fact that a significant number of them have expressed outright dissent or highly qualified assent to that papal encyclical.(169) A perhaps more significant fact is that virtually no one of the theological community has been officially sanctioned (outside of local cases such as that in Washington, D.C. where those involved were eventually vindicated) by the pope solely because they disagreed with his teaching. In relation to earlier crises, such as that over modernism, this represents a step forward in the church. (170) For instead of silencing the dissident voices and engaging in the politics of confrontation, members of the church have been given an opportunity for growth and learning.(171)  Perhaps even non-members have been given a chance to appreciate the evolving concept of authority in the Catholic Church.(172)

A more recent document of the Vatican (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) on sterilization has specifically denied that dissent from the official teaching (HV) constitutes a locus theologicus as such (ut tali). Richard McCormick has pointed out that of course it is not dissent “as such” which is important but the “reasons for the dissent.”(173)  For if moral judgments were to be detached  from their reasoning, the whole tradition of the church’s own natural law thinking would be destroyed. We might take this a step further and ask what the significance of a locus theologicus would be if it did not include the data of reflected and reasoned dissent? Would it aid the credibility of the magisterium if theologians engaged exclusively in the practice of justifying and rationalizing hierarchical statements? Or is not the pursuit of truth and objective norms in morality a much more complex and important goal of the entire magisterium that almost demands a continuous critique and the balance of different opinions?

When we consider the character of the theological debate over HV, it becomes clear that the differences of opinion on the encyclical are not always directly comparable. Some issues, such as that concerning whether “every act of marriage whatsoever must remain destined of itself to procreation,” can even become reduced to a ridiculous level of simple affirmation and denial: “yes, it should,” – “no, it does not.” This often happens when one party or another places too much weight upon the authoritative character of statements rather than upon their moral relevance and rational meaning. More serious (and genuinely theological) discussion, however, soon became aware that the real issues of debate were much deeper. There were fundamental differences in perspective, method and basic propositions between the teaching of the encyclical and those who did not share its conclusions. These included the status of questions in fundamental morality, such as natural law, the meaning of evil, the role of conscience, etc. as well as those special questions seen in the light of their basic presuppositions, as the evaluation of sexuality, marriage, the demands of justice upon the family, etc.

The essence of the theological debate over HV, then, involved fundamental questions and the very basic way of looking at reality. The fact that certain issues seemed to become virtual impasses in discussion (e.g., that contraception is a moral evil) was usually due to missing the point that the real problems went much deeper than the simple, affirmation (e.g., how does one define moral evil?). Because HV did not deal, on the level of those fundamental problems, it could not dialogue with the dissenting view such as that of the Final Report of the Commission. Further, because some participants in the debates did not grasp the scope of the issues, they responded to the wrong things either accusing the magisterium of abusing its authority or seeing dissent as a threat to the integrity of marriage and chastity. While both these positions may contain a portion of truth, they are entirely too narrow and do not do justice to the real moral theological debate.

Finally, the theological debate over HV, as part of the entire question of the moral evaluation of artificial birth control and the issue of authoritative teaching in the area of morals, is far from over, even though comment about the encyclical has for the most part ceased. Both issues stand in need of further investigation, the former leading on to a complete revaluation of the fundamental problem of methodology and of human sexuality in the church’s moral teaching and the latter to a more clear understanding of genuine authority. Neither of these projects should be considered threatening, and neither of them will be a threat as long as they are motivated by a positive search for what is true.

3. The lay participation
The substance of this study has concentrated upon what bishops and theologians had to say about HV. Having chosen that as the locus of our work, we have come to reflect on theological and ecclesial questions which had an impact upon the entire church. In a way, this is a one-sided approach, looking at the problem, as it were, “from the inside out.” But HV was essentially a document intended to give guidelines to the faithful on a practical moral problem. Though this encyclical occupies its place in the history of the church’s official teaching, perhaps the most important assessment of its significance is how it functioned in actually teaching the faithful. This can lead to two different but interconnected questions: to what extent did the encyclical affect the actual practice of Catholics in the matter involved, and did HV have any effect upon the relationship between the ordinary layperson and the church as institution?

We are not going to attempt here to review the reactions of the faithful to HV as that phenomenon may have occurred at the time of its promulgation and been reported in the religious and secular media. We are not even going to be able to answer our own questions in a very complete way because we do not have the necessary sociological tools at our disposal to do so. Rather, we must limit our comments here to a few generalizations which will have to be judged on their own merit (and that of their sources).

First we might note that the rise of artificial methods of birth control among the general population has been steadily growing throughout this century. This has become especially evident in the past thirty years during which, after a sharp increase in the world population in the post World War years, the rate of population growth began to decline in a number of countries. The greatest decline occurred in Western, developed regions, particularly in Europe and North America which have since approached the level of slow, if not zero population growth. This is more interesting in that the most developed countries, because of higher standards of nutrition and general health, have naturally higher fertility rates. The less- and under-developed countries have widely varying rates of population growth but are usually higher than those of developed ones. There is no absolute correlation between the majority religious affiliation of a population group and their rate of growth. When all the data are considered, it does not seem possible to single out Catholics as acting in a way which is significantly different from their neighbors in the same population group, except that the practice of rhythm is perhaps higher among Catholics than among those of another religion.

It is generally recognized that the employment of artificial means of regulating conception had been increasing among Catholics during the 1950’s and 60’s and that the practice was slowly becoming more tolerated even in the pastoral teaching of bishops.  At the time of the promulgation of HV, it is safe to say that some Catholics were using one form or another of contraception, even in such a “Catholic country” as Italy.(174)  But our main question is whether this practice has changed since HV. We will concentrate on only one case here, that of the United States where we have some surveys among the Catholic population. This is admittedly a limited view, but it very likely reflects a much wider-spread phenomenon as reflected in the figures of population growth for countries throughout the world.

The most widely quoted survey of the practice of birth control among Catholics in the U.S. is that done by Westhoff and Bumpass.(175) McCormick sums up the results of their findings by saying that the authors,

point out that the proportion of Catholic women between the ages of 18 and 39 who use methods of contraception other than rhythm increased from 30 per cent in 1955 to 68 per cent in 1970. The greatest changes occurred between 1965 and 1970, the percentage of women deviating from the official teaching rising from 51 per cent to 68 per cent. In the lower age groups (ages 20 to 24), the percentage of non-conforming women in 1970 was 78 per cent.

The authors note that their most significant finding is that the defection has been most pronounced among women who receive communion at least once a month. Noting that in 1970 two-thirds of all Catholic women used methods disapproved by the Church, that the figure becomes three-fourths for women under 30, Westhoff-Bumpass conclude that “it seems abundantly clear that US Catholics have rejected the 1968 papal teaching encyclical’s statement on birth control and that there exists a wide gulf between the behaviour of most Catholic women on the one hand and the position of more consultative clergy and the official stand of the Church on the other.” (176)

Though the citation of this one survey does not prove an entire case, it is not our intention here to actually prove anything concrete. If we take these figures to have an accuracy of only 50% (which is highly unlikely) we still have a situation in which 30-40% of church-going Catholic women are not following the papal teaching. Taking the figures to have the same accuracy throughout, there has been an actual increase in the use of contraception among these women (not including those who are no longer practicing Catholics) since the encyclical. Incidentally, the increase of practicing contraception among the general population, not to mention the large increase in the rate of abortion in all groups during the last ten years, says little for the impact of HV on societies in general or for its influence on government policy throughout the world.

Our second consideration, also applied to the situation in the U.S., shows that HV has actually had a negative effect upon the relation of individuals to the church. Andrew M. Greeley has recently published a study in which he asserts that the promulgation of HV has actually had adverse effects upon church membership that served to work against a growing participation in religious activity since the close of Vatican II.(177) The author saw the council as a growth oriented revival of Catholic participation in the U.S. (and quotes surveys to make his point) and aims his research at the charge that Vatican II actually weakened the church by its radical reforms. His figures show that defection from the church occurred at a standard rate during the years 1963 to 1968 but that after HV the rate went up significantly. In relation to the practice of birth control, he cites Westhoff and Bumpass to the effect that religious participation of women using some form of contraception actually increased between the council and HV. After the encyclical, church attendance dropped significantly, and statistically (through surveys of his own) comparing this issue to other possible motives, he concludes that the cause of the decrease is directly attributable to a loss of credibility in the church brought on by the issue of HV. Finally, of those who remained (practicing) in the church, the practice of contraception actually increased immediately after the encyclical and had maintained its relatively high rate.(178)

It is perhaps too obviously true that the citation of surveys and figures proves nothing about morality or even the credibility of the magisterium. But the simple fact appears to be that the teachings of HV on birth control (as well as the prohibition of abortion and sterilization) have been generally ignored by the faithful. Whatever one might wish to attribute to be the causes of this situation – and the argument of a growing laxity among Catholics seems not only inapplicable but is specifically contradicted by a number of episcopal statements – one thing is rather clear: in the moral question regarding methods of regulating conception, the majority of Catholics depend upon the decisions of their own conscience and not on the teaching of Pope Paul VI. Those decisions have been progressively leaning toward the acceptance of “artificial methods” at an increasing rate since the beginning of the last decade. The promulgation of HV in 1968 has had no significant impact upon the practices of contraception among members of the church.. And in the view of at least some observers, its total effect has been negative.

D. The question of reception
In view of the reactions to HV which we have attempted to expose, it seems fair to say that the promulgation of that papal statement did not effectively resolve the controversy over the moral methods of regulating births. In fact, the nature and even existence of the encyclical broadened the area of debate and introduced the added problem of evaluating the role of official teaching in the area of morals. We must now ask about the significance of that continued debate. Does the reaction to HV, especially the negative reaction, have any significance in the determination of church teaching? Can we, should we, attribute any importance to the reaction to that encyclical, or must we consider the dissenters to be antagonistic to the teaching authority of the church?

Only a much farther removed historical view will be able to accurately judge the entire meaning of the HV event. But it is already clear that the experience of the church following the promulgation of that encyclical was exceptional. Many other official statements of recent times had been made which were relatively easily accepted by the church in general. Mater et Magistra , Pacem in Terris and Pope Paul VI’s own Populorum Progressio contained social principles of a moral nature which were readily integrated into the general teaching of the church, and the council’s Pastoral Constitution, GS, received an enthusiastic acceptance.(179) Even the large changes in the daily life of the church wrought by Vatican II in general were accepted rather easily, though some vocal conservatives still believe that the council was a step in the wrong direction. But HV did not win an immediate acceptance in the church and it seems that its influence as an effective church teaching has lessened as time has passed.

Immediately after HV, Peter Harris wrote that “as yet a unified and harmonious understanding of this problem (contraception) has not yet been achieved.”(180)  As time went on and negative reaction continued to persist, it became clear that the presumption in favor of the papal magisterium which was due to an authentic (authoritative) teaching was losing its force. Five years after its appearance, Richard McCormick wrote, “It seems clear that, if large segments of the community have been unable to integrate every statement of the encyclical into their moral perspectives, then this dissent, to the extent that it is responsible, must be seen as a source of new evidence.”(181)  What we must now consider is the meaning and weight of that evidence.

The notion of consent, or consensus, in the church is an ancient one.(182) Very often, doctrine was positively integrated into the church’s teaching because it was considered to be present in the consensus of the fathers of the church and even in the church as a whole.(183)  It is also traditional that controverted doctrines were referred to the consensus of theologians who debated matters until some clearly dominant understanding of the issues emerged.(184)  But the presence or absence of consensus on a matter also had negative effects on church teaching, for even the most official of teachings were subject to change and the lack of general assent to a teaching usually meant its exclusion from official doctrine.(185) These phenomena, of course, came from a very organic view of the entire church interacting, where the formation of consensus usually originated from below and worked upward.(186) Such a view has been less understood in recent years even though it is firmly based in church tradition.(187) This appears to be a direct result of a growing centralization of the teaching office of the church prevalent from the time of Vatican I and gradually increasing until Vatican II. Many modern popes exercised that office according to the mentality of centralization and in IIV Pope Paul VI appears to consider consensus only from the point of view of his predecessors in the pontificate. He certainly attributed little or no weight to the opinions of bishops, theologians, the laity, or even his own Commission.(188)

When Pope Paul promulgated HV, it appears that he went directly counter to the growing consensus within the church on the moral issue he was addressing. While we could not say that the opinion of the church at that time was overwhelmingly in favor of change, one could not deny the real state of doubt on the question. Even Pope Paul anticipated opposition to his teaching, for it had become rather clear that the practice of many of the faithful was quite different from his own idea of what was licit. The case for change on the part of the theologians may not have been convincing, at least, for the pope himself, but their opinions about the eventual conclusions were certainly clear. The promulgation of the encyclical did not change the direction of the growing consensus that artificial methods of regulating births (contraception) were not in themselves condemnable.

What happened after HV could possibly be more appreciated as an example of “reception.” Even the most centralized and hierarchical conception of the magisterium must recognize that a teaching, by its definition, must be “received.” This happens either positively or negatively, but it is the latter case which is controversial and serves as the locus for our question on the significance of the reaction to HV. It is clear that for a teaching to be effective, it must be “received.” When a doctrine is received positively, there is little trouble in affirming its meaningfulness – perhaps too little trouble, for it is easy to forget in this case that there is more than one side to the conversation. But when a teaching is received negatively – or not received – an obvious problem arises. Does this mean that those who should hear and obey are automatically at fault?

A small difficulty is present in determining clear cases of non-reception of a teaching because of the introduction of various factors. It may be argued, for instance, that a teaching was not intended to be fully implemented in the first place. Such may be true of John XXIII’s apostolic constitution Veterum Sapientia which called for the preservation of latin in all seminary textbooks and lectures shortly before Vatican II made the big change to the use of the venacular throughout the church. Another, more complicated, case is when an official teaching is later interpreted on the grounds of what was meant rather than what was said. This practice is a valid one, but lends itself too easily to saving face and finding a way to do away with a doctrine without contradicting it. A good example here is the “constant teaching of the church on the rights and duties of spouses.” The body of doctrine on marriage in the church has undergone profound changes which have become nearly impossible to recognize, in some modern interpretations. This approach has been applied to HV itself in a way that may be well motivated but borders on being dishonest.

A comprehensive theology of reception has still, to my knowledge, to be written.(189) While the Eastern churches have a more developed, functional idea of the concept, the Roman Catholic Church has tended toward a hierarchical model and assumed a de facto validity of official teaching qua teaching. However, we may see the concept of reception as still operative in the notion of “ordinary magisterium.” Because the function of the ordinary magisterium relates to the preservation of the faith, the safeguarding through day-to-day teaching of the truths held by the whole church, and basically, to the sensus fidelium, we might say that it is intimately bound up with what is already considered to be “received teaching.” The strength of this connection, of course, rests in interpretation. But I suggest that a fuller appreciation of the concept of “reception” in the Roman Church might pursue such a course.

If we ask about the reception of HV, we must take a number of factors into account. How, for instance, was it understood? Regardless of the nuances of theologians, how many of the faithful saw HV as simply stating that contraception was a sin? Correlative to this, of course, is what did Pope Paul mean to say; but more relevant is the question of whether the encyclical was really a good means of direct communication with the faithful? Another factor is that this encyclical deals mainly with moral teaching. In order to evaluate its reception, we cannot ignore that between the teaching authority and the moral agent stand the questions of freedom and that of conscience (not freedom of conscience, but two separate questions). To act morally, a person must be free. To act morally, conscience must seek to consider all the relevant values and disvalues. Thirdly, we must consider the status quaestionis. Pope Paul had evidently chosen to take a “safe” path in his interpretation of the moral issues. Was he being sufficiently sensitive here to the real state of affairs in the church, and did he accurately assess the state of the traditional teaching? Fourthly, in the same line, how does the teaching relate to the ordinary magisterium? Does it really express that part of the teaching office, or does it step outside the day-to-day function of preserving the faith? Finally, we would have to assess the general characteristics of the reaction to HV and judge it according to similar criteria. Is the negative reaction, for instance, really closer to the sensus fidelium, the ordinary magisterium, and ultimately, to the traditional teaching?

It would be prejudiced to say that the failure of large segments of the church to “receive” the teaching of Pope Paul VI in HV was entirely their own fault or that this state of affairs is nothing more than a clear case of disobedience. A good number of people in the church, including theologians, did not disobey the teaching, they simply did not believe it.  It must be left to the historians to determine whether the negative reception was valid – and for that matter, whether the teaching of HV itself was a valid one. With respect to the question of whether the non-reception of a papal teaching has any impact upon the status of such teaching itself, it may be better to answer less directly. Because the reception of any teaching must be based upon the faith of the church, the belief held in common by all the members of the church and reflected in official statements, the status of that teaching is pre-determined according to how well it articulates that faith and belief. Another way of putting it, a teaching is valid insofar as it is a genuine expression of the ordinary magisterium. If it is not a valid teaching of the church, it will not, it cannot, be received. Thus, the “reception” does not determine the status of a given teaching, it simply recognizes its own, internal significance. In the case of HV, it seems sufficient to say that the “reception” was not immediately forthcoming.

Go to Chapter 7
or return to Index.


  1. Cf., Piet Fransen, “‘Geloof en zeden’: notitie over een veel.gebruikte formule,” in Tijdscbrift voor Theologie 9(1569), n. 3, pp. 315-26, and “‘Geloof en zeden’, historisch-kritisch verkenning,” in Ethische vragen voor onze tijd. Hulde aan Mgr. Victor Heylen (Antwerp: De Nederlandsche ifoekhandel” 1977) , pp. 133-53. When Vatican I declared the teaching authority of the pope (and in its non-promulgated schemas, of the church) to be infallible, it used the traditional phrase fides et mores to define the object of that authority. While the phrase has two parts, only the first, the area, of dogma (including scripture) and common religious belief received wide attention and investigation. The second area, moral teaching, was generally neglected and its scope of application has never really been defined, although theological commentaries have sought to interpret the conciliar texts. It was not until HV that the specification of “authority in morals” became crucial and the realization came that a great deal of historico-critical work needs to be done.
  2. Richard A. McCormick, “Theologians and the Magisterium,” pp. 85-100 in “Notes on Moral Theology: 1976,” in Theological Studies 38(1977), n. 1, 57-114. The author reviews some of the current attitudes which exist with regard to the role of theologians vis-a-vis authoritative teaching both from the hierarchical and theological points of view.
  3. “Nemo sane christifidelium eat infitias, ad Ecclesiae Magisterium interpretationem legis moralis naturalis spectare.”
  4. “…a doctrina morali de matrimonio, a Magisterio Ecclesiae firma constantia proposita, discedentes.”
  5. “Vos primi in ministerio vestro perfuingendo exemplum sinceri obsequii edite, quod interius exteriusque ecclesiaatico Magistero tribuendum est.”  “Neque vos fugit, summi  esse momenti, ad animorum pacem populique christiani unitatem servandam, ut in re morali ita in re dogmatica, omnes Ecclesiae Magisterio parere eodemque uti sermone.”
  6. “Fiduciae autem pleni loquamini, dilecti Filii, pro certo habentes, Sancturn Dei Spiritum, dum adest  Magisterio rectam proferendi doctrinam, intus corda fidelium illustrare eosque ad assentiendum invitare.”
  7. “Pariter, sicut Ecclesiae Magisterium pluries docuit, damnandum est seu viros seu mulieres directo sterilitate, vel pertetuo vel ad tempus, afficere.” Note 15 at this point refers to CC, a Decree of the Holy Office (1940) and two addresses of Pius XII (1951 and 1958). HV,19 also describes the church as “omnium gentium Matris ac Magistro” which seems more an oblique reference to John XXIII’s encyclical than a reference to the technical magisterium.
  8. See above, p. 84.
  9. Cf., “Magisterium” in Karl Rahner and Herbert Vorgrimler, Concise Theological Dictionary (London: Burns & Gates, 1965), pp. 268-9. Also, J.P. Mackey, “Teaching Authority in Faith and Morals,” in Maclcey (ed.), Morals, Law and Authority, op. cit., pp. 91-112.
  10. These “brief statements are necessarily general and are not intended to give a summary of the theology of magisterium. That task should, and possibly will, constitute an entirely separate work which deals especially with the exercise of the magisterium in the realm of morals. The intention here is merely to orient the following discussion of the reactions to HV.
  11. Instead of listing all the criteria, we can simply refer to CIC 1323 § 3, to the effect that nothing can be considered infallible which is not specifically stated to be such.
  12. Ferdinando Lambruschini, Problemi della Humanae Vitae (Brescia: Queriniana, 1969).
  13. As quoted in The Bitter Pill, op. cit., p. 37.2. The three traditional categories are in descending order of importance with regard to the type of assent which is due them and in their understanding reveal an equally descending relation with revelation.
  14. Cf., Joseph A. Komonchak, “Ordinary Papal Magisterium and Religious Assent,” in Curran (ed.), Contraception…, op. cit., 101-26, pp. 106-7 and n. 14.
  15. Cf., Rahner and Vorgrimler, loc. cit.
  16. J.A. Komonchak, art. cit., lists the auctores probati studied on p. 106, n. 13.
  17. Ibid., pp. 114-5, Cf., also, Yves Congar, La Foi et la Theologie (Tournai: Desclee,, 1962), pp. 158-9; and two more recent articles: “Pour une histoire semantique du terme ‘magisterium’,” and “Bref historique des formes du ‘magistere’ et de ses relations avec les docteurs,” both in Revue des sciences philosophiques et theologiques 60 ( 1 976) , pp. 85-98~and 98-112 respec tively.
  18. Cf., Marc Caudron, “Magistere ordinaire et infaillibilite pontificale d’apres la constitution Dei Filius,” in ETL 36(1960), n. 2, pp. 393-431.
  19. Cf., Gustave Thils, L’ Inf aillib’flite du people chretien “in credendo”: Notes de theologle posttridentine (Paris: Desclee, 1963); Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Loveniensium, v. 21,
  20. M. Caucron, art. cit., p. 431.
  21. Cf., Peter Harris, art. cit., in On Human Life, p. 91.
  22. Cf., Gregory Baum, “Ecclesiological Commentary on Humanae Vitae,” art. cit., p. 183, uses the example of the Pontificial Biblical Commission which, under Pius X received increasing powers to exercise “papal” authority. Adrian Hastings, “The Papacy and the Church,” in On Human Life, op. cit., 75-8.5, pp. 78-9, writes, “The mistake in regard to the magisterium, the teaching ministry in the Church, has been akin to that concerning ministry generally:  the creation of an evermore rigid pattern making a central part of the ministry do the work of the whole.  Just as historically the presbyterate has tended to eat up every other ministry, making all ‘lay’ members of the Church into passive ‘receiving’ members, ‘sheep’, instead of its acting as a stimulus and focal point, for the many ministries of the. local, church; so in the course of history, the tendency was to reduce, the magisterium more and more to its central core, the Petrine see..”
  23. Cf., Piet Fransen, “Unity and Confessional Statements: Historical and Theological Inquiry of R.C, Traditional Conceptions,” in Bijdragen 33 (1972), 2-38, esp. pp. 34-8. Elsewhere, the author refers to the practice of “tutiorism,” i.e., the practice of judging what is the “safer” teaching. Cf., also, John McHugh, “The Doctrinal Authority of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae,” art. cit., pp. 684-7.
  24. A survey of the literature shows that a number of reactions refer to ordinary magisterium, (ordinary) papal magisterium, the magisterium of the church, etc., somewhat indiscriminately and without explanation of what is meant. This confusing abuse of such highly technical terms is further complicated by the introduction of further adjectives as “profound” (Berto), “clarified” (Kippley) “certain” (Guzzetti) , etc., which contribute nothing to our understanding of the ecclesiological questions at hand.
  25. Gregory Baum, “Ecclesiological Commentary…,” art. cit., p. 183, writes, “While the magisterium tends to insist that its teaching has never changed, the historian of doctrine finds that the outstanding characteristic of the papal magisterium over the last hundred years is the fact that it has changed on so many issues.”
  26. M.R. Gagnebet, “L’autorita dell ‘enciclica Humanae vitae: II, Certezza della dottrina dell ‘enciclica,” in L’OR 108(4 Sept. 1968), n. 202, p. 1.
  27. G.B. Guzzetti, as quoted in The Bitter Pill, op. cit., p. 374.
  28. See J. Costanzo, “Papal Magisterium and ‘Humanae Vitae’,” art. Cit., p. 396; cf., the editorial from Renovatio quoted at length in The Bitter Pill, op. cit., pp.376-8.
  29. Felix Bak, “Bernard Haring and ‘Humanae Vitae’.” Art. Cit., p. 229.
  30. Cf., Nicholas Halligan, “The Church as Teacher: Prologue to Humanae Vitae,” in The Thomist 33(1969), n. 4, pp. 675-717; V.-A. Berto, “L’encyclique Humanae vitae et la conscience,” art. Cit., pp. 28-42.
  31. Charles Journet, “La lumiere de l’encyclique Humanae vitae,” in Nova et Vetera 43(1968), n. 3, 170-5, p. 172.
  32. The Statement is quoted in full in Daniel Callahan (ed.) The Catholic Case for Contraception, op. cit., 67-70, p. 68
  33. As quoted from Humanae Vitae: Testo e note teologico-pastorali (cf. bibliography) in The Bitter Pill, op. cit., pp. 36-8.
  34. “Birth Control and the Papacy,” art. cit., p. 264.
  35. James T. Burtchaell, “‘Human Life’ and Human Love,” art. cit. p. 246.
  36. Louis Janssens, “Considerations on Humanae Vitae,” art. cit., p. 43; see above, p. 168, n. 89.
  37. J.P. Mackey, “Teaching Authority in Faith and Morals,” in Mackey (ed.), Morals, Law and. Authority, op. cit., pp. 91-114.
  38. Ibid., “pp. 95-8. To offer just one of his examples, all moral activity takes place within a given situation, but any action itself changes the situation in which one acts (p. 98). If we apply this to the question of birth control, the very fact of not regulating birth can itself lead to a situation demanding some form of regulation – and vice versa.
  39. Gustave Thils, “Sentire cum Ecclesia,” in Pour Relire, pp. 15-22.
  40. Ibid., pp. 17-8.
  41. Daniel C. Maguire, “Moral Inquiry and Religious Assent,” art. cit., in Curran (ed.), Contraception…, esp, pp. 134-44.
  42. M.R. Gagnebet, loc. cit.
  43. Charles Journet, loc. cit. Cardinal Journet’s view of authority in the church in general sees all authority derived from the pope. In marked contrast to the notion of ordinary magisterium outlined above, he writes, “The supreme authority of the universal church resides first of all entirely in the sovereign pontiff, and its exercise is then personal. And it also resides entirely in the sovereign pontiff joined to the episcopal college, and its exercise is then collegial. There is no more authority in the episcopal college joined to its head than in the head alone, but it is more of a participation of the authority and for them it is a great priviledge and a great responsibility.” (p. 171).
  44. J. Lerch, “After ‘Humanae Vitae’: Some Reflections,” art. cit., p. 490.
  45. John R. Quinn, for example, “Birth Control and the Irrelevant Church,” art. cit., p. 161, says that there can be no contrary theological opinion which can even be considered probable.
  46. Cf., J.M. Cameron, “England and the Encyclical,” in Commonweal 89(1968), n. 1, pp. 5-6; and William Clancy, “The Troubling Spirit,” in Commonweal  88(1968), n. 19, pp. 560-2; both of whom comment upon the authority- freedom debate. The real crisis, writes Clancy, is having to defend one against the other.
  47. Carlo Colombo, “Magistero e ricerca teologia,” in La Civilta cattolica 120(1969), 70-6, p. 75.
  48. Francesco M. Marchesi, “Qualche rilievo su ‘Riflessioni’ di K. Rainier,” in Palestra del clero 48(1969), 100-108, p. 106.
  49. Cf., Gregory Baum, “Ecclesiological Reflections…,” art. cit., p. 182.
  50. J.F. Costanzo, “Papal Magisterium and ‘Humanae Vitae’,” art. cit., takes a very distinct view of papal authority: “The papal office is unique in origin (immediate divine establishment), unique in its nature (divinely commissioned to teach the ways of eternal salvation and to administer the sacraments of sanctification), unique in character (a permanent office, enduring to the end of time), unique in its prerogatives (the warrant against errancy in matters of faith and morals), unique in the exercise and extent of its jurisdiction (plenary, universal, unconditional by any dependency upon human agencies for the validity of its authentic and authoritative teaching).” (pp. 378-9).
  51. Peter Harris, art. cit., in On Human Life, p. 103. ‘
  52. B.C. Butler, “Conscience and Authority,” in The Tablet 222(21 Sept. 1968), n, 6696, pp. 934-5.
  53. Cf., J.P. Mackey, “Teaching Authority in Faith and Morals,” art. cit., p. 109.
  54. Cf., Francis X. Murphy, ‘”Humanae Vitae’ and the Moral Theologian,” in The Tablet 222(24 Aug. 1968), n. 6692, pp. 835-6.
  55. Cf., Richard A. McCormick, “Theologians and the Magisterium,” art. cit., p. 89.
  56. Ibid., p. 92. McCormick uses the example of the doctrine of religious freedom: “Concretely, was the teaching of Mirari vos and that of the Syllabus of Errors on religious liberty right until they were corrected by Dignitatis humanae? Or is it not that we came to see through experience and theological reflection what is right and then it could be authenticated by the magisterium? Even more concretely, what was John Courtney Murray to say when he was convinced of the truth of the doctrine eventually enshrined in Dignitatis humanae? Should he have said that it is not the doctrine of the Church but it is right – or it is not the doctrine of the Church and therefore not right? Surely not this latter. But unilateral emphasis on past formulated doctrine too easily leads to this cul-de-sac.” (p. 92).
  57. Cf., Charles E. Curran, Robert E. Hunt and the “subject professors” with John F. Hunt, and Terrance R. Connelly, Dissent in and for the Church: Theologians and “Humanae Vitae” , op. cit. See esp. Chapter Six, “The, Reasonableness of Responsible Dissent from One Particular Ethical Teaching of the Encyclical,” pp. 155-93.
  58. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1966. Dr. Noonan’s work is usually described with words like “monumental” and “comprehensive” and in the sense that the author has compiled a great number of facts and assembled them in a readable and coherent way, he certainly must be given credit for his valuable contribution. However, this book should be approached with caution by the average reader and considered to be only one tool in the process of further historical investigation, for every step along the way of this development demands an understanding of the context within which it takes place (cf., his “Introduction,” pp. 1-2). Many readers of the book have come away with different conclusions, which probably testifies to Dr. Noonan’s objectivity and unbiased investigation. But even the title, Contraception, can be misleading if one interprets it to mean that there is and has been one, unified doctrine on the subject throughout history.
  59. Cf., C. Derrick, op. cit., pp. 13-4, 71, 134; J. Kippley, op. cit. , pp. xviii, 3-4; D. von Hildebrand, op, cit,, pp. 59-60.
  60. Cf., Charles E. Curran, et. al, op. cit., pp. 169-87. The authors, in a capsulized summary of Noonan’s work, offer some examples of interpreting the official teaching through history.
  61. Cf., B, Haring, “The Encyclical Crisis,” art. cit., p. 592.
  62. Cf., V. Heylen, in “A Symposium on Humanae Vitae…,” art. cit., p. 225.
  63. This proposition is put forth, of course, with the knowledge of dissenting opinion. To cite only a couple, David Knowles, art. cit., attributes the teaching to the church instead of the pope specifically; J.F. Costanzo, “Papal Magisterium and ‘Humanae Vitae’,” art. cit., pp. 381— 2, tries to ground the teaching more concretely but his examples all deal with abortion and taking innocent life; Felix Bak, as mentioned earlier, sees the juridical notion of raturn et consumatum as implicating a similar attitude. Cf. , also V.-A. Berto, G. de Broglie, P. Felici, M.R. Gagnebet, G. Greco, G.B. Guzzetti, N. Halligan, C. Journet, F. Lambruschini, J. Quinn, L. Sahuc and M. Zalba. Not surprisingly, G. Martelet, who follows the encyclical very closely, makes no claim of doctrinal continuity and devotes the first part of his book to development in the matter.
  64. Nicholas Halligan, art. cit., p. 709, puts this forth as an argument for continuity in the need for each act being “open to procreation.”
  65. St. John-Stevas, op. cit,
  66. By absolute exclusion of the value of procreation here is meant, its denial, and rejection as a value itself. It is not meant that one simply takes the decision never to realize the value, for that is an acceptable possibility even in the teaching of HV.
  67. The ideas found in the text can also be applied, I feel, to the tradition of natural law. Prohibitions and condemnations which have appealed to natural law reasoning can also be shown to include a number of factors outside the framework of this form of argumentation (e.g., usury, masturbation). But a positive approach to the whole history of teaching on the natural law could reveal that the appeal to it constituted a search for a grounding of the values which were being affirmed.
  68. In fact, the Catechism does mention the “crime of contraception” which it considers to be “homicide.”
  69. Other phrases relating to the “constant teaching on marriage” can be found in HV, 6, 10, 12, 14 and 16, but most are very unspecific.
  70. “…Quaestionis dissolvendae viae rationesque existerant, a doctrina morali de matrimonio, a Magesterio Ecclesiae firma constantia proposita discedentes.” Passing references to the “constant moral teaching can also be found in HV, 10, 11, 14, 15, 17 and 18; as well as references to social teaching in HV,23 and to the divine law in HV, 18, 19, 20 and 25.
  71. Cf., HV, notes 1, 4(2x), 12, 14, 15 and 16.
  72. Cf., HV, notes 1, 4(4x), 12, 14(3x), 15(2x), 16(2x), 17, 19(2x), 2.0, 21(2x) and 29. While numbers can be a misleading tool, it is interesting to note that the documents of Vatican II are referred to only fourteen times (notes 4, 8, 10, 11, 14, 25, 28, 30, 32(2x), 38(3x) and 39) of which only nine are references to GS’s teaching on marriage.
  73. Nicholas Halligan, art. cit., p. 709.
  74. It should be understood that this particular aspect of fulfilling the form of coitus (insemination) is often appealed to in order to ground the traditional nature of HV’s teaching. This should be carefully evaluated because although that form (the complete physical act) was indeed considered a sine qua non for the moral evaluation of sexual intercourse, this was true because the form was the insurance of the procreative end. It should also be remembered that the same criterion placed “natural coitus” in situations of fornication and adultery to be less morally offensive than masturbation and contraception (e.g., coitus interruptus) in marriage.
  75. Again, the working position of the Vatican’s interpretation of using sterile days to avoid conception is understood to date from the nineteenth century. But the decrees of the Holy Office and Sacred Penitentiary can be neither equated with “official teaching” nor considered to embody the positive valuation of achieving the secondary ends alone. On the contrary, such practice was only permitted to avoid more serious offenses.
  76. John McHugh, art. Cit., p. 800, comments upon the claim made in the “minority paper” of the Commission that Pope Pius XII reiterated the condemnation of contraception throughout his pontificate. “The ‘Minority Report’ stresses time and time again that the Church has ever taught that contraception is always seriously evil, yet proofs they allege will not support this assertion. For example, they assert that Pius XII until the end of his life ‘explicitly and implicitly reiterated that contraception is always gravely evil,’ and list nine Addresses as evidence for their statement. I have checked every one and only in the last (15 September 1958) does he assert this explicitly. In three other Addresses, he says it is ‘intrinsecamente immorale,’ but there is no statement (explicit or implicit) about its gravity; in the other five Addresses, he does not treat the subject directly. I hope it is not unfair to say that the use of the verb ‘reiterated’ is unjustified, and the long list of references misleading. Such ex parte pleading does not inspire confidence in the impartiality or objectivity of the Report.”
  77. See above, pp.225-33. The distinction between periodic continence and rhythm explained earlier is a real one, I believe, in terms of the manner of approach on the development of theological reflection. However, that distinction is not always evident or explicitly named because there is no variety of terms for the practice as in English. The Dutch designation of periodieke onthouding, for instance, carries the entire meaning of both approaches given and the transition from the avoidance of conception to the intentional pursuit of infertility must be explicitly shown.
  78. Cf., J.T. Noonan, op. cit., pp. 409-10. Dr. Noonan notes that while official teaching in the Catholic Church changed more slowly, the actual practice of christians was apparently including some form of regulation of births. Even in a Catholic country like Belgium, he notes, the birth rate between 1880 and 1930 fell from 31 to 18.1 per thousand while most other appreciable factors (the rate, of marriage, etc.) remained the same (the number of children per marriage dropped from 4.49 to 2.29 in the same period.
  79. The assertion put forth in the “minority working paper” (art. cit., p. 485) that a change in the teaching would imply that in 1930 the Holy Spirit was assisting the Anglican rather than the Roman Catholic Church implies both a shallow notion of divine assistance and a poor understanding of the real intricacies of the developing tradition at that time. While the official statements of the Anglicans developed a broader theological base as time went on (see the resolutions of Lambeth, 1958) the same type of evolution was taking place in the Catholic Church and soon came to fruition.
  80. The proximity of Pope Paul’s teaching in HV to that of Pius XII is frequently attributed to the influence of his close advisors and to the “Roman theologians” who presented him with a consistent, if not wholly solid, conservative argument. But it should not be forgotten that Cardinal Montini (later to become Pope Paul VI) was a very close associate of Pius XII himself and served a long term as the Pro-Secretary of State under his pontificate. During that period, the Cardinal was an official representative of the official Vatican position on all matters, including the particular teaching on contraception, and faithfully represented the papal teaching. In a letter to His Eminence Cardinal Siri on the occasion of the 26th Italian Catholic Social Week held in Palermo, 27 Sept. – 4 Oct. 1953, Card. Montini addressed the problem of the “transmission of human life” entirely in terms of the teaching of Pius XII and referred to that doctrine as the “teachings of the Church’s Magisterium.” The identification of papal and church teaching, reflected in HV by Pope Paul’s conception of the traditional doctrine in terms of that of his predecessors in the pontificate rather than that of the bishops in council, is very much in character for this dedicated servant of the church. Cf., Anthony F. Zimmerman, Overpopulation: A Study of Papal Teachings on the Problem, with Special Reference, to Japan (Washington: Cath. Univ. of America, 1957; The Catholic University of America Studies in Sacred Theology, ser. 2, n. 99). The letter cited above is found in Appendix B of this S.T.D. dissertation, pp. 303-6.
  81. “Etenim nostis tali vos obsequio devinciri non potius illis de causis, quae allatae sunt, quam ob Sancti Spiritus lumen, quo praecipue Ecclesiae Pastores in explananda veritate fruuntur.” Note 39 at this point refers to LG, 25.
  82. See above, pp. 167-8.
  83. “Papal Magisterium and ‘Humanae Vitae’,” art. cit., p. 391.
  84. Joseph F. Costanzo, “Papal Magisterium, Natural Law and ‘Humanae Vitae’,” art. cit.
  85. Joseph T. Mangan, art. cit., p. 230.
  86. G. Lobo, “The Encyclical Humanae Vitae,” in The Clergy Monthly 32(1968), n. 9, 388-400, p. 393.
  87. Cf., John F. Kippley, “Continued Dissent: Is it Responsible Loyalty?” art. cit., p. 54.
  88. Nicholas Halligan, art. cit., p. 714 (the emphasis is the author’s).
  89. Cf., “The Encyclical,” an editorial of 7 Aug. 1968 in National Catholic Reporter, found in Daniel Callahan (ed.), The Catholic Case for Contraception, op. cit., 136-46, p. 140.
  90. Adrian Hastings, art. cit., in On Human Life, p. 82.
  91. Cf., Ciaran Ryan, “Science and Moral Law,” in J.P. Mackey (ed.), Morals, Law and Authority, op. cit., 79-90, p. 79.
  92. Cf77 P. McGrath, art. cit.,. in Ibid., pp. 58-78; Louis Janssens, “Considerations on Humanae Vitae,” art. cit., p. 243.
  93. Gregory Baum, “The Right to Dissent,” art. cit., p. 554.
  94. Bernard Haring, “The Encyclical Crisis,” art. cit., p. 592.
  95. Cf., “The Response to ‘Human Life’,” in America 119(1968), n. 6, pp. 162-4. This is a reprint of a statement issued by twelve theologians on the Faculty of Alma College (California).
  96. Charles H. Giblin, “The Encyclical from the Standpoint of a Biblical Theologian,” in W.C. Bier (ed.), op, cit, 306-12., p. 311.
  97. Daniel C. Maguire, “Moral Inquiry and Religious Assent,” art. cit., in Curran (ed.), Contraception. . . , pp. 139-40. Cf., AA.S 58(1966), pp. 892-4.
  98. Charles E. Curran, et. al., Dissent in and for the Church…, op. cit., pp. 105-6, write:

“The truth which is the object of proper theological inquiry is not synonymous with the faith by which the theologian’s intellect is illuminated to begin with, nor is it synonymous with the ‘revelation’ or the doctrina de fide vel moribus which the bishop (or priest) as pastoral minister must proclaim and celebrate. Whereas theologians ‘respectfully acknowledge a distinct role of hierarchical magisterium (teaching authority) in the Church of Christ,’ they are also aware that ‘Christian tradition assigns theologians the special responsibility of evaluating and interpreting pronouncements of the magisterium in the light of the total theological data operative in each question or statement.’ The teachings of the hierarchical magisterium are part of the total data which the Catholic theologian must integrate into his work; he must be aware of these teachings, evaluate their weight, give them their proper significance and interpret them.

“The hierarchical magisterium as such and per se (and a fortiori an individual bishop or a regional or national group of bishops as such and per se) is incompetent in theology as such and per se. The magisterium is not to be viewed as a refuge from the discipline of theology. Rather, the propounding and explanation of the faith involves a theological task, and is subject to the interpretations and evaluations of theological science. As the theologian is dependent on the magisterium as the touchstone of faith, the hierarchical magisterium depends on theology for the full articulation of Christian meanings. This position does not imply that one must be a scientific theologian to teach in the Christian Church, or that one must be a theologian to be a bishop. However, it must be acknowledged that when one seeks to explain the faith, he employs specific theological forms and patterns of thought and language (Scripture itself contains varying theologies). Any use of such forms or patterns should be subject to the scrutiny of theological science, just as theological science influences the presentation and explanation of faith itself.”

  1. The substance of this chapter has dealt principally with the ‘subject’ of the magisterium (i.e., who exercises what teaching office in the church) and the strength of its statements. There have been a number of references to the ‘object’ of the magisterium (i.e., the area of competence for its statements), however, especially with respect to its connection with revelation. (See above, p. 281.) But this topic was not very developed in the course of the reactions to HV. We will treat the question of the magisterium’s area of competence in our final, analytical, chapter; and here we wish to point out that the criterion employed in the reactions, the connection of a teaching with revelation, does not rule out the possibility for the teaching church to address itself to the area of practical morality.
  2. Cf., Kevin T. Kelly, art. Cit., p. 982.
  3. Cf., Philippe Delhaye, “Conscience and Church Authority,” in Louvain Studies 2(1969), n. 4, 355-75, p. 356; and Louis Janssens, “Considerations on Humanae Vitae,” art. Cit., p. 245.
  4. Virtually none of the reactions to HV include a detailed summary of the meaning of conscience. The ideas put forth here represent a distillation of the general trends perceived in the post-HV controversy and are meant to be paradigms of what were operatively very distinct conceptions of conscience. The vast majority of the reactions included elements of both positions offered in the text and, like the reactions of the bishops, were evidence of the fact that the understanding of conscience itself is still very much an open question in moral theology.
  5. It is curious that proponents of this position usually add quite specifically that no one is capable of judging the subjective state of a person’s conscience, i.e., whether an individual is guilty of sin. However, what they probably mean is that no one can know to what extent any individual has appropriated the objective norm. The dichotomy of functions in the operation of moral decision making may also be implicit in the distinction made between the formation of conscience and conscience itself, especially when one considers the “formation of conscience” to be equivalent to accepting the norms offered by authority. This was a frequent distinction employed by bishops and theologians who spoke in terms of HV representing the “ideal teach.”
  6. John R. Connery, “The Conscience of the Confessor and the Encyclical,” in W.C. Bier, (ed.), op. cit., 333-42, p. 340.
  7. Dietrich von Hildebrand, op. cit., p. 65.
  8. George K. Malone, “Humanae. Vitae Miscellany,” in Chicago Studies 7 (1968), n. 3, pp. 242-50, classifies all dissent from HV to be the result of an erroneous conscience (p. 243).
  9. V.-A. Berto, art. cit., pp. 32-6.
  10. Cf., C. Derrick, op. cit., pp. 144-5; J.F. Kippley, op. cit., pp. 82-6.
  11. Karl Rahner, art. cit., p. 918, admits that a large majority of theologians consider the teachings of HV to be not only doctrina reformabilis but doctrina reformanda. His own position on the argument remains unstated, other than to say that the encyclical was not very convincing. Instead, he concentrates on the question of conscience in which he gives considerable weight to the objective-subjective distinctions.
  12. John F. Dedek, “Humanae Vitae and the Confessor,” in Chicago Studies 7(1968), n. 2, 221-4, p. 222. The author equates the lack of an evaluative knowledge of HV’s norm with an invincibly erroneous conscience, for he accepts the judgment on the evil of contraception with no questions (p. 223). A few years later, however, in his book, Contemporary Medical Ethics (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1975), he writes, “The central affirmation of Humanae Vitae is that because each marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life, every act of contraceptive intercourse is morally evil. It is fair to say that norm of conscience,” which cannot be violated without the occurence of on the level of ethical analysis this affirmation remains unproven.” (p. 75).
  13. J C Gerber, “A Question of Conscience,” art. Cit., p. 555.
  14. Cf., Charles E. Curran, et al., Dissent….., op. cit., pp. 188-91.
  15. Frederick E. Crowe, “The Conscience of the Theologian with Reference to the Encyclical,” in W. C. Bier (ed), op. cit., 312-32, p.314.
  16. “Ecclesia….facere autem non potest, quin legen docet, quae reapse propria est vitae humanae ad suam germanam veritatae restitutae, atque a Dei Spiritu actae.”
  17. Cf., St. Thomas’ “De Legibus” in the Summa, Ia-IIae, qq. 90-108,
  18. In speaking of the practical norms for conscience here, we are obviously referring to the realm of moral law. We do not include such things as ecclesial, disciplinary laws such as those governing celibacy or worship, for example, which, although they can be said to relate to the will of God in meaning, are ultimately changeable in specification according to church teaching and practice.
  19. See above, p. 87.
  20. The text of LG,25 reads:

“But when either the Roman Pontiff or the body of bishops together with him defines a judgment, they pronounce it in accord with revelation itself. All are obliged to maintain and be ruled by this revelation, which, as written or preserved by tradition, is transmitted in its entirety through the legitimate succession of bishops and especially through the care of the Roman Pontiff himself.

“Under the guiding light of the Spirit of truth, revelation is thus preserved and faithfully expounded in the Church.(45) The Roman Pontiff and the bishops, in view of their office and the importance of the matter, strive painstakingly and by appropriate means to inquire properly into that revelation and to give apt expression to its contents.(46) But they do not allow that there could be any pub-lic revelation pertaining to the divine deposit of faith.(47)”

The footnotes 45-47 given in the text of LG refer to the interpretation of the texts of Vatican I in the matter given by Gasser (Mansi 52: 1213, 1215 CD and 1216-17 A). Note 47 also refers to Pastor Aeternus, 4.

  1. GS,50, emphasis added. Cf., the parallel text of GS,51 which was inserted into the document after the admonition of the papal modus: “…sons of the Church may not undertake methods of regulating procreation which are found blameworthy by the teaching authority of the Church in its unfolding of the divine law” (emphasis added). This is the same place as the occurrence of the famous note 14. It seems that it is both of these passages that Pope Paul VI had in mind when he referred (HV,10, n.10) to the teaching of the Church on the nature of marriage.
  2. Cf., St. Thomas, Summa, Ia-IIae, q. 91. Thomas distinguishes between eternal law (Providence) and divine law (being the Old and New Test-aments) at the two ends of his discussion on law in general. Both of these are directly related to the will of God in his creation and governing of the world whereas other laws, such as the natural law, are mediated in different ways. Strictly speaking, then, divine law means only the scriptures, but we have allowed for an even wider interpretation of the conciliar text which, nevertheless, must be seen as studiously excluding natural law in its meaning.
  3. Cf., Louis Janssens, “Norms and Priorities in a Love Ethic,” art. Cit., pp.231-6
  4. Charles H. Giblin, art. Cit., p.308, distinguished between the gospel law as that which prescribes an ideal made possible by grace and political law which is “primarily a minimum norm of action binding under some sanction.” The problem of using the term “law” is evident here because of the confusing tendency on the part of many to use it univocally.
  5. Kevin T. Kelly, art. Cit., p. 109.
  6. Arthur Janssen, art. Cit., p. 20. P.J. McGrath, “On Not Reinterpreting Humanae Vitae,” art. Cit., pp. 140-1, reacts to this position saying that it is untenable on rational grounds. His main problem is the designation of contraception as immoral, which does not necessarily hold in Janssen’s article.
  7. Cf., P.J. McGrath, Ibid., pp. 141-2
  8. Cf., Philippe Delhaye, “La conscience devant la loi,” art. Cit., p. 36. “The faithful seemed to discover by themselves that Christian consciences also have rights and that one cannot delegate them univocally to the exterior.”
  9. “Si autem peccatis adhuc retineantur, ne considant animo, sed humiles et constants ad Dei misericordiam confugiant, quam abunde Paenitentiae sacramentum dilargiture.”
  10. Felix Bak, “Bernard Haring and Humanae Vitae,” art. Cit., p.217.
  11. Dietrich von Hildebrand, op. cit., pp. 35-6.
  12. Guy de Broglie, op. cit., pp. 126-7, n. 6.
  13. Cf., G. Martelet, op. cit., esp. on his distinctions between “disorder” and “sin” (pp. 22-3) and the acceptance of a lesser evil as opposed to its “justification” (pp. 141.7).
  14. Cf., Kevin T. Kelly, art. Cit., p. 116; and Paul F. Palmer, art. Cit., p. 304.
  15. Cf., Louis Janssens, “Considerations on Humanae Vitae,” art. Cit. Gregory Baum, “Ecclesiological Commentary on ‘Humanae Vitae’,” art. Cit., p. 185, writes, “While the general principles are universal, it is a question whether the Church can propose a uniform set of detailed moral norms applicable to all men. The evaluation of birth control depends in part on the situation of the family in society, on the state of women, on the place assigned to personal conscience and on many factors of social life. Since people seek common responsibility and the development of life in ways that depend in part on the society in which they live, the self-identical call of the Gospel to follow Jesus makes demands on them which are, in fact non-identical.”
  16. In 1974, on the occasion of the U.N. World Population Year, the Vatican Secretariate of State sent a confidential letter to all the bishops’ conferences urging them to publicly uphold the teachings of HV on the moral means of regulating births. The letter was leaked to the press and published in three parts as “The Vatican and World Population: Note to Episcopal Conferences,” art. cit.
  17. HV,28, n.39 reads, “Cfr. Conc Vat. II, Const, dogm. Lumen Gentium, n. 25: A.A.S. LVII(1965) pp. 29-31.” While it is the whole of LG,25 which is referred to, it is interesting to note that the exact position of n. 39 occurs not after the call for internal and external assent (obsequium) but after the statement that the reason for assent is because of the assistance of the Spirit to the bishops rather than from the arguments. The first part of HV,28 then, is a commentary on all of LG,25 and not the citation of a single passage (on the obedience due to the pope) as so many commentators presuppose.
  18. “Episcopi in communione cum Romano Pontifice docentes ab omnibus tam quam divinae et catholicae veritatis testes venerandi sunt; fideles autem in sui Episcopi sententiam de fide et moribus nomine Christi prolatam concurrere, eique religioso animi obsequio adhaerere debent. Hoc vero religiosum voluntatis et intellectus obsequium singulari ra- tione praestandum est Rornani Pontificis authentico magisterio etiam cum non ex cathedra loquitur; ita nempe ut magisterium eius supremum reverenter agnoscatur, et sententiis ab eo prolatis sincere adhaereatur, iuxta mentem et voluntatem manifestatam ipsius, quae se prodit praecipue sive indole documentorum, sive ex frequenti propositione eiusdem doctrinae, sive ex dicendi ratione.”
  19. See above, HV and LG, pp. 165-8.
  20. Strictly speaking, “religious assent” (in LG and HV, religiosum obsequium, or “obedience” properly so-called) applies only to those things “connected with the faith” and the type of assent necessary for actually revealed truths is “the assent of faith.” We use the term broadly here to distinguish the many levels of assent possible while a minimalist interpretation would probably be more restrictive.
  21. Cf., Charles E. Curran, et al., Dissent…., op. cit., p. 126
  22. We have mentioned elsewhere that some theologians propose that there was no need to repeat something which has already been taught. But that argument is blind to the sense of traditional development that exhibits change more by omission than concrete negation. While the doctrine of Pius XI on the matter of contraception is indeed referred to in notes, it is perhaps highly significant to notice that in the one possible reference to “sin” in HV,25, no mention whatsoever is made of CC. This clear case of omission cannot be lightly dismissed by the theologian, especially because that teaching was obviously a controverted point. The fact that Pope Paul specifically chose not to reaffirm the teaching is an important theological datum.
  23. John McHugh, “The Doctrinal Authority of Humanae Vitae,” art. cit., pp. 684-6. The author refers to Franzelin’s Tractatus de Divina Traditione et Scriptura (4e ed., Rome: 1896), pp. 118-41.
  24. Ibid., p. 689.
  25. For another exposition of the manuals on this topic, see Joseph A. Komonchak, art. cit., in Curran (ed.), Contraception..., pp. 106-12.
  26. Cf., B.C. Butler, “Conscience and Authority,” art. cit. , p.935. “If the Church has not committed her infallibility on a point of teaching, then she cannot require unconditional assent to that teaching. This means that I may have serious valid reason for leaving the question at issue open in my mind. And where the Church’s moral guidance does not come as an inevitable inference from the Church’s infallible teaching, there is similarly a possibility of legitimate disagreement.

“Theology claims to be a science, that is to say it is concerned to identify truth and to declare it with all its nuances. The distinction between infallible and non-infallible teaching is a truth and its practical consequences cannot be overlooked by the theologian without treason to his task in the Church…he is aware that authority in the Church has no meaning except in the context of respect for the conscience.”

  1. Cf., J. Komonchak, art. cit., pp. 110-26. The “approved authors,” he notes, generally do not recognize the right of public dissent. The position of Palmieri on the public discussion of a matter, should the pope allow it, is “either so that the truth might shine out more clearly or in order to complete the stage of investigation before a solemn definition” (p. 110). Without elaboration, the same author notes that through discussion “an error in the ordinary magisterium could be corrected before the whole Church were led into error” (p. 111). Cf., D. Palmieri, De Romano Pontifice cum prolegomeno De Ecclesia (2e ed., Prato: 1891), pp. 350-1.
  2. Cf., John T. Noonan, “The Amendment of Papal Teaching by Theologians,” art. cit., in Curran (ed.), Contraception…, pp. 41-75; and Yves Congar, “Bref historique des formes du ‘magistere’ et de ses relations avec les docteurs,” art. cit.
  3. J.T. Mangan, “Understanding the Voice of the Vicar of Christ: A Commentary on Humanae Vitae,” art. cit., p. 233; and J.R. Quinn, “Birth Control and the Irrelevant Church,” art. cit., p. 161. But Gregory Baum, “Ecclesiological Commentary on ‘Humanae Vitae’,” art. cit., p. 181, writes, “A number of bishops, according to the Catholic press, have denied this right to dissent. Such a denial, however, inevitably leads to contradiction. To deny the right to dissent means that a non-infallible teaching can never be wrong (and this is a contradiction, for a position is called non-infallible precisely because there is no guarantee that it is always true), or it means that while a non- infallible position may be wrong, ecclesiastical obedience demands that we say it is right (and this would be preposterous).”
  4. D. von Hildebrand, op. cit., pp. 79-80.
  5. Cf. George K. Malone, “Humanae Vitae Miscellany,” art. cit., p. 243.
  6. See above, pp. 88-91.
  7. Karl Rahner, “The Theology of Dissent,” art. cit., pp. 918-9. In commenting on the manuals, again, Komonchak notes that reasons for dis-sent do not have to be new ones, not previously considered by the magisterium (art. cit., p. 109).
  8. Richard A. McCormick, “Notes on Moral Theology: Theology and Authority,” art. cit., p. 653.
  9. Bernard Haring, Crise autour de Humanae vitae, op. cit., p. 25. Cf., Franz Bockle, “The Church and Sexuality,” in Concilium 9/10(1974), 10, 144-55, pp. 144-6.
  10. Cf., “Freedom and Honesty in the Church,” in Herder Correspondence 5(1968), n. 10, pp. 291-5.
  11. Harry J. McSorley, “Some Ecclesiological Reflections on Humanae Vitae,” in Bijdragen 30(1969), n. 1, 3-8, p. 7.
  12. J. Lerch, “After ‘Humanae Vitae’: Some Reflections,” art. cit., p. 490.
  13. Cf., Richard McCormick, “The Silence Since Humanae Vitae,” art. cit.
  14. Ibid., p. 30.
  15. John C. Haughty, “Conscience and the Bishops,” in America 119(1968), n. 11, 322-4, p. 324.
  16. Cf., “Freedom and Honesty in the Church,” art. cit.
  17. Cf., “Loyalty to Whom?” in Commonweal 88(1968), n. 19, pp. 548-9.
  18. Francis X. Murphy, “‘Humanae Vitae’ Two Years After,” art. cit.
  19. Cf., John R. Quinn, art. cit., p. 161; and M.R. Gagnebet, “II Papa decide da solo,” in L’OR 108(5 Sept. 1968), n. 203, p. 1.
  20. Cf., V.-A. Berto, art. cit.; and the “three articles” of G. Greco.
  21. Paul Surlis, “The Church’s Message,” in J,P. Mackey (ed.), Morals, Law and Authority, op. cit., 127-54, p. 130. Cf., William H. Shannon, op. cit., p. 117.
  22. Gregory Baum, “Ecclesiological Commentary on Humanae Vitae,” art. Cit., p. 182; Bernard Haring, “The Encyclical Crisis,” art. Cit., pp. 589-91.
  23. Charles E. Curran, et al., Dissent…., op. cit., pp. 93-4.
  24. Philippe Delhaye, “Pour Relire ‘Humanae Vitae’,” in Pour Relire, pp. 9-14
  25. Besides the citation of dissenting theologians who wrote on HV with reservations, it is also necessary to take account of those who took part in general symposiums on the matter and signed collective documents dissenting from the teaching of HV, We refer both to specific instances such as the meeting and statement of 21 theologians in Amsterdam (18-19 Sept. 1968; see above, pp. 161-2, n. 70) and to statements such as that of the “Washington Theologians” which was eventually signed by more than 600 theologians and philosophers (see Daniel Callahan, op. cit., p. 67).
  26. J.M. Cameron, “England and the Encyclical,” art. cit., pp. 5-6.
  27. William Clancy, “The Troubling Spirit,” art. cit., pp. 560-2. This attitude was obviously not shared by all. L’OR. for instance, published a number of editorials and articles denouncing dissent from the papal teaching and exercised a type of silencing by refusing to publish anything which resembled a critical response – including the statements of episcopal conferences such as those from Austria, Belgium, Canada, West Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia. Cf., N. St. John-Stevas, op. cit., pp. 199-206.
  28. Robert McAfee Brown, “An Ecumenical Boon?” in Commonweal 88(1969), n. 20, pp. 595-6.
  29. Richard A. McCormick, “Sterilization and Theological Method,” art. Cit., pp. 475-6.
  30. Leonard J. Berry, “II Papa and the Pill,” art. cit., obtained figures from Dr. Luigi di Marchi, national secretary of the Italian Association for Demographic Education (IADE). The birth rate in Italy in 1968 was 17.71 per 1,000, lower than the 19 per 1,000 in England where contraceptives are legal and less of the population is Catholic. IADE estimates that 98% of the actual population relies on coitus interruptus but also notes the sale in 1968 of 20 million condoms (“for the prevention of venerial disease”), 3,500 diaphrams, 3,500 vaginal suppositories and over 8 million steriod pills (“for regulating of the menstrual cycle only”). Another figure cited is the estimate of a million abortions per year which the IADE connected with the illegality of disseminating contraceptive information and material.
  31. Charles F. Westhoff and Larry Bumpass, “Revolution in Birth Control Practices of U.S. Roman Catholics,” in Science 179(1973), pp. 41-4.
  32. In Richard A. McCormick, “The Silence Since Humanae Vitae,” art. cit., p. 31. Cf., a later study with about the same findings, Theodore H. Groat, Arthur G. Neal and Evelyn C. Kinsley, “Contraceptive Nonconformity among Catholics,” in Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 14(1975), n. 4, pp. 367-77.
  33. Cf., Andrew M. Greeley, William C. McCready and Kathleen McCourt, Catholic Schools in a Declining Church (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1976). A summary of this work was presented by Greeley in the 1975 H. Paul Douglas Lecture, “Council or Encyclical?” published in Review of Religious Research 18(1976), n. 1, pp. 3-24.
  34. For a brief view of a very similar situation in West Germany, see Franz Bockle, art. cit.
  35. Cf., Louis Janssens, “Considerations on Hurnanae Vitae,” art. cit., p. 245. Some commentators (e.g. Kippley, op. cit., pp. 48-51) have used the example of the social encyclicals to say that the non-implementations of papal teaching is a relatively normal state of affairs and that defection from the teaching of HV therefore has no significance for the truth of that document. But the social encyclicals, it should be pointed out, are for the most part built upon general principles and do not deal directly with the specific behavior of individuals. Furthermore, the methodology of social teaching during the last hundred years has been based not upon strict natural law reasoning but on wider principles of human relations which generally respect social, cultural and anthropological differences. HV, with its single, absolute norm for all of mankind was very different and must therefore be judged in a very different way.
  36. Peter Harris, art. cit., in On Human Life, p. 95.
  37. Richard A. McCormick, “The Silence Since Humanae Vitae,” art. cit., p. 32. The same author had urged caution in preserving this “presumption” in 1968 when he gave his first reaction to HV in “Notes on Moral Theology,” art. cit., p. 732.
  38. Cf., Rahner and Vorgrimler, op. cit.,’pp. 96-7.
  39. Ibid., p. 97. The authors trace this practice to the first council, but much more recent doctrines such as the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption can be said to have been accepted for the same reasons.
  40. Cf., Charles E. Curran, et al., Dissent…, op. cit., pp. 39-40. This phenomenon was even present in the most centralized council in the church’s history, Vatican I, the official commentary of which continually refers to theological opinion. The frequent references to auctores probati is another example of what came to be the theology of the manuals.
  41. Cf., Bernard Haring, “The Encyclical Crisis,” art. cit., p. 588. There is no catalogue of now defunct teachings of the church, but the practice of change by exclusion is a generally accepted fact. We have noted in Chapter Four a number of teachings which were later considered to be in error, or at least inappropriate. The historian of doctrine could doubtless add many more. It should be remembered that what we are speaking of here is essentially a positive function, for the rejection of a false or inadequate teaching is aimed at reaching the truth of a matter.
  42. Adrian Hastings, art. cit., in On Human Life, p. 78, applies this model directly to the HV controversy.
  43. Joseph F. Costanzo, “Papal Magisterium, Natural Law, and ‘Humanae Vitae’,” art. cit., p. 266, for instance, writes, “Theological consensus within Christianity has been a derivative of the Teaching Authority of the Catholic Church.”
  44. Cf., Walter Dirks, art. cit., pp. 3-4.
  45. I must acknowledge here a great debt to Prof. Piet Fransen who has, through his lectures, provided a dynamic and workable approach to the notion of “reception” in the interpretation of doctrine. While Prof. Fransen has inspired some of these reflections, I can attribute only credit to his positive and helpful manner of approach and accept as my own responsibility any abuse of the concept or misrepresentation of the idea.

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