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REVIEW: On Human Life: Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most significant event in human history. The invention of the birth control pill is an event that undermines His sacrifice. However, both radicalized the moral landscape like never before.

The pill undermined our culture, as Pope Paul VI predicted when he wrote Humanae Vitae (On Human Life). In the re-release, the encyclical has new chapters by sociologist Mary Eberstadt, historian James Hitchcock, and Catholic author, Jennifer Fulwiler.

According to Eberstadt, the sexual revolution collapsed on itself, confirming Pope Paul VI’s warnings with precision. Most religious leaders once recognized that sex separated from procreation would rewrite human destiny. In 1930 Anglicans approved contraception within marriage. All of Christendom followed suit, save the Catholic Church. Eberstadt reports that hindsight has become 20/20 for many. “. . . [T]here can be no question that the Pill [sic] gave incredible license to everything from adultery . . . to premarital sex and within marriage to a separation of the sex act and procreation,” she quotes Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Eberstadt points out, however, that Pope Paul VI only did what every pope and every Christian church and even every Jewish synagogue once did—defend the sacredness of procreation. “Those who make use of this divine gift while destroying . . . its significance and its finality . . . act contrary to the nature of both man and woman and of their most intimate relationship, and therefore, contradict also the plan of God . . . ,” he wrote.

The pope called on leaders to create a climate “favorable . . . to the triumph of healthy liberty over license by means of respect for the moral order.” He also appealed to scientists to provide a secure basis for regulating births in union with nature, “. . . since man cannot find true happiness . . . unless he respects the laws inscribed in his nature by God.”

With so much clarity, how did even Catholics become so muddled? Hitchcock’s afterword explains the cultural confusion that led many to break with Catholic teaching, either rebelliously or ignorantly. He points out that Pope Saint John Paul II’s teaching on theology of the body has shed new light on these eternal truths.

In her afterword, Jennifer Fulwiler summarizes her associate pastor’s recent homily on this theology. His instructions were clear and bold: “This is the heart of our faith because it’s at the heart of who we are as human beings.” The response was enthusiastic—and so very hopeful that perhaps now these truths will begin to make sense.

On Human Life: Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI, by Mary Eberstadt, James Hitchcock, and Jennifer Fulwiler; Ignatius Press; 2014; 111 pages; $8.46 (paperback)

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About the author

Patti Armstrong

Patti Maguire Armstrong and her husband have 10 children. She is an award-winning author. She writes for The National Catholic Register and a number of Catholic websites and blogs at CatholicNews&Inspiration.com.