Monday, 11 August 2008

The failure of Humane Vitae

I've been wondering what, if anything, to write about Humane Vitae in marking its fortieth anniversary for the last week, and then came across this great blog post by Athanasius.

Much of blogdom's coverage of HV has been laudatory - on how prophetic Paul VI's words have proved to be, and how wonderful that he affirmed orthodoxy. Athanasius questions whether we should really laud what has proved a Pyrrhic victory, with millions of catholics now living in serious sin.

He points out that there are reasons why the message got lost, reasons that could have been and should have been addressed (and still need to be) for the salvation of souls. Now I do think he is a little tough on the Pope Paul VI - he could have failed to teach altogether, but spoke out strongly in favour of orthodoxy. And it was always going to be tough given everything else that was happening. All the same, I do think he has a point about the weakness of the way Humane Vitae presented the argument.

Why Humane Vitae failed to persuade

The first problem was of course the general context of 1968:

"Why the failure? Why the universal rejection? I would forward a cause, the event of Vatican II. I say the event, to distinguish the "Spirit of the Council", the modernist crisis, the new theology, the breakdown in morals, the 60's, the Beatles, the spirit of sedition, and all of the things which took place at that time making up an event which dramatically changed the life of the Church for the worse..." Add to that the weakening of the liturgy, and the seeds of disaster were sown.

The second, I would add, was the direct context - commissioning (admittedly something initiated by his predecessor, but made much broader by Pope Paul VI) and releasing a report in the lead-up to the encyclical which did advocate some change to traditional teaching was a bad mistake, raising false expectations.

Another and fundamental problem, according to Athanasius, was the failure to adequately articulate what true marriage is; and above all to stress that the primary purpose of marriage is children, with the unity of the spouses subordinated to that.

He also points to an article by Gavin in Latin Mass Magazine which draws attention to what it argues is the faulty reasoning of HV. Though it reaches the right conclusions, HV doesn't use the language of natural law, of Sacred Scripture, of Catholic tradition, of Catholic doctrine, and of Catholic philosophy to get there. No wonder it is unpersuasive.

The consequences: the contraceptive mentality in Natural Family Planning

Athanasius makes the point that the neo-con answer to contraception, radical advocacy of NFP, often reeks of the contraceptive mentality, enabling the fundamental issues to be avoided rather than addressed. His comments fit nicely with a critical piece on NFP on Inside Catholic that also makes an interesting read.

Is there a way forward?

Athanasius argues that ultimately this issue goes to the very roots of contemporary culture:

"The crisis of modern civilization is a loss of Christian eschatology, and a loss of the concept of our teleology....People no longer act in accordance with the fact that one day they will die and receive judgment (I do not here mean atheists, but Christians who act like heathens).

"What man", St. Bonaventure asks, "who knows in time that he will be judged for his actions, and knows not if it may be tomorrow, acts without deference to that judgment?"

Teleology on the other hand (greek: telos) refers to our immediate, but not final end, as in the end of our actions. Actions are oriented toward a certain end, we do not choose them by chance. Modern man believes however in acting without thought to our end, to "take a chance", acting in an insane manner without order or discipline or prudence.

Or, put in another way, if you are not going to St. Louis what the hell are you doing on the train? The loss of any concept of eschatology has a different effect, namely people don't take going to hell seriously.

Yet the loss of teleology, consequentially of all Natural Law based teaching, is the catalyst for relativism. If the ends of our actions are not based on objective natural law principles, they can be based on anything.

Thus Catholics, improperly catechized, and formed and fed not by the Church... take no heed of what their actions lead to, or the judgment they must face. Modern man, finds fault not with his actions, but with the results and expects the action to produce what he wants....What the world needed was to be called back to natural law teaching as the foundation of human ethics, enlightened by faith and revelation."

Changing the culture is our only hope. The issue is how to do it!

Do go and read the whole thing.

1 comment:

Marty said...

Excellent article!
Spot on re: nfp too.