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Karol Cardinal Wojtyla: Humanae Vitae Is Infallible And Irrevocable

August 1, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

(Editor’s Note: Following is Karol Cardinal Wojtyla’s 1969 letter to Pope Paul VI that affirms Humanae Vitae as “a binding doctrinal teaching.” The Wanderer will publish this letter in two parts, the first one below and the second one next week. Diane Montagna translated the letter for LifeSiteNews.)

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Most Holy Father,

With this letter, I again wish to thank Your Holiness for the encyclical Humanae Vitae, whose promulgation in July 1968 concluded a period dedicated to the in-depth study of the theme of the transmission of life in marriage, in light of the principles of Christian morality. During this period, the Church, according to the instructions expressed by her Supreme Master and Shepherd, has been careful not to question this ethical principle, and has continued to proclaim it in this matter. She has also endeavored to gain a deeper understanding of its meaning, raison d’etre, and possibilities of application in the face of the current state of human science, particularly in the fields of contemporary physiology, psychology, and demography.
The moral doctrine of the encyclical Humanae Vitae was accepted, after its publication, by all the Christian faithful and especially by the Catholic episcopate with great conviction and profound gratitude. Yet, in some areas, the formulation of a clear doctrine in this very important area of human morality has come up against already existing doubts about the principle itself, as well as some different practices present in conjugal life and in pastoral life.
There are theologians, including some often quoted by the Church, who still today make themselves the spokesmen of these doubts. Advertising and the means of social communication amplify their circulation and sow confusion in pastoral ministry. Such disorientation creeps in both among the laity — particularly in some circles — and among the priests who are pastors of souls and confessors, despite clear statements by the Holy See and local bishops on this matter. The confusion regards not only the correct discernment of the moral norms contained in the encyclical Humanae Vitae and of their binding character, but also the whole of the Christian life.
In fact, challenging the moral doctrine of the Church in a field as important as that dealt with by the encyclical can be an occasion that gives rise to a much broader process of challenging other elements of the Christian faith and practices.
Therefore, even in societies where faith and moral conscience are such that the Holy Father’s directives are willingly accepted, great difficulties arise due to interpretations of the encyclical Humanae Vitae that differ from those of the Pope. Thanks to means of social communication, people from every corner of the world receive information immediately. In particular, statements of some episcopates are used, which are considered different from the teaching of the encyclical, especially with regard to practical solutions.
In this situation, it seems to be absolutely necessary that the Holy See contemplate a series of provisions aimed at helping priests and the laity to resolve these difficulties. One could consider drafting a very detailed instruction to priests engaged in ministry — especially confessors, catechists, and preachers. This instruction, moreover, should contain very precise positions regarding several theological formulations, especially theological-moral ones, whose tenor is in clear disagreement with the teaching of Christ transmitted by the Church.
In doing so, one could clarify the Church’s position with respect to certain theological opinions, whose authors — and their followers — believe that the absence of such a clarification confirms their theses. In particular, it would be necessary to clarify the issue of the obligation and infallibility of the ordinary Magisterium of the Popes, and to point out the dependence of the Catholic theologian on the authority of the Magisterium of the Church.
In this context, I would like to enclose with this letter several more detailed proposals aimed at giving structure to the content of the Pastoral Instruction in question. These proposals were drawn up by the group of theologians and priests in Krakow who, before the publication of the encyclical Humanae Vitae, had already prepared a long memorandum on the problems the encyclical would have to address. I sent this memorandum to the Holy See in February 1968. At present, the same group of theologians and priests — including one of the auxiliary bishops of Krakow — has prepared the proposals that I am submitting to Your Holiness. These proposals represent only a general schema. They do not constitute the actual text of the instruction, but indicate the issues that, in our humble opinion, should be addressed.

I

The first part of the instruction should contain the statements of Bishops and Episcopates published on the occasion of the encyclical Humanae Vitae. This is an immense amount of material, so we need to find the best way to publish it, if we do so in the Instruction in question. Publishing the episcopal statements along with the proposed instruction would show the close link between the teaching of the Holy Father in the encyclical and the teaching of the college of Bishops, which is the same. After the Second Vatican Council, proof of collegiality has acquired unprecedented positive value.
In the context of the statements made, it is necessary to highlight some of them which, compared to the whole, involve a number of differences. These include the following (according to the documentation in our possession):
1. Nordic and Scandinavian countries, Pastoral Letter of the Bishops of the Countries of Northern Europe, in the encyclical Humanae Vitae of Pope Paul VI, 10/10/1968;
2. Federal Republic of Germany, Wort der deutschen Bischöfe zur seelsorgischen Lage nach dem Erscheinen der Enzyklika Humanae Vitae, dated 8/30/1968.
3. France, Note pastorale de l’Episcopat français sur l’encyclique Humanae Vitae, November 1968.
4. Belgium, Déclaration de l’Episcopat belge sur l’Encyclique Humanae Vitae, 8/30/1968.
5. Canada, Déclaration des Evêques canadiens sur l’Encyclique Humanae Vitae, dated 9/27/1968.
6. Luxembourg, Bischofswort zum Familiensonntag über die Enzyklika Humanae Vitae, dated 6/1/1969.
In principle, these statements accept the authority of the teaching power of the Pope as well as the entire content of his encyclical. At the same time, however, they seek to take into account the reactions of the laity and priests, that the demands of Christian morality formulated in the encyclical Humanae Vitae are “concerning.”
This attitude certainly comes from an authentically pastoral anxiety. It is also the manifestation of a psychology of dialogue, which makes us attentive to the thoughts and objections of our interlocutors and urges us to follow them to the limit of what is possible. On the other hand, the situation in recent years, in which the pastoral practice of some regions considered contraception morally acceptable, undoubtedly exerts its influence. We therefore understand the origin of the “concern” or even “surprise” caused by the demands of conjugal morality recalled in the encyclical Humanae Vitae. The authors of the aforementioned statements have made themselves the spokesmen for this concern.
The reason for these statements is to be found, in most cases, in the concern deriving from the comparison between the moral conscience of the laity and priests and the real demands of Christian morality dealt with in the encyclical. One can observe that the Authors of these documents intend, on the one hand, to maintain the submission of the faithful to the teaching of the Pope, and on the other, to safeguard at all costs the union of the faithful with the Church, seeking to understand their situation and to apply the principles of Christian morality in such a way as to soothe their consciences without, however, having to change the behavior maintained up to now.
The instruction we are proposing cannot, of course, keep silent about the difficulties of the problem. In this regard, the statements of the episcopates cited are a help, as they will allow the Instruction to examine in detail the very heart of these difficulties, whether doctrinal, pastoral or simply moral, although one should not concern oneself only with the difficulties or give them first place: the magisterial character of the encyclical Humanae Vitae and of the teaching of the Pope undoubtedly indicate this path. (We wish to emphasize the importance not only of extraordinary teaching but also of the ordinary teaching of the Popes).
On the other hand, the reaction of “surprise” and “concern” triggered by the appeal to principles of conjugal morality in the encyclical is far from being the general one. It was, in fact, the reaction only in some circles. Probably, it was able to conceal from the eyes of these Episcopates the reaction of other circles, other groups of laity and priests. These were precisely the groups and circles that welcomed Paul VI’s encyclical as the logical expression of Gospel morality, which is naturally very demanding, but which, at the same time, is authentically Christian and authentically human. Many groups have expressed their deep gratitude to the Pope for the teaching contained in the encyclical Humanae Vitae.
In these circumstances, we wish to reiterate forcefully that the moral law is founded not on the approval or disapproval of men, groups or human circles, but rather on the objective nature of moral good and evil.
In the light of this conviction, we are now making the following proposals.

II

The second part of the instruction should contain the doctrine of the Second Vatican Council which, following the First Vatican Council, once again defines the principles of infallibility. It would be necessary simply to cite the Constitution Lumen Gentium III 25, which states that “This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; 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 either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.”
There is also another reason that urges us to take up these texts of Vatican II: the statements of the episcopates in question also refer to this principle (and to the same texts), declaring that they adhere to the encyclical Humanae Vitae in a spirit of faith, as it is due to the teaching of the Pope.
The encyclical Humanae Vitae is not a solemn document of ex cathedra teaching; therefore it does not contain any dogmatic definition. However, since it is a document of the ordinary teaching of the Pope, it has an infallible and irrevocable character. Such a character, in fact, is specifically inherent not only to ex cathedra dogmatic definitions, but also to the acts of the ordinary teaching of the Church (see the quoted passage from Lumen Gentium, III 25). As for the encyclical Humanae Vitae, its content does not give rise to any doubts about the matter. The Holy Father affirms that the Church’s teaching on the regulation of births does nothing but “promulgate divine law” (Humanae Vitae, n. 20). Addressing himself to spouses, the Pope speaks in the name of the Church, which proclaims “the imprescriptible demands of divine law” (HV, n. 25).
While inviting priests and moral theologians to adhere unanimously in a spirit of faith to the teaching of the Popes regarding the ethics of married life, the Pontiff affirms that it is a matter of the “saving doctrine of Christ.” (HV, n. 29). Moreover, he also speaks of the laws inscribed by God in human nature, so as to ensure that spouses conform “what they do to the will of God the Creator. The very nature of marriage and its use makes His will clear, while the constant teaching of the Church spells it out.”
An act of mutual love carried out at the expense of the power to transmit life “contradicts both the divine plan, which constitutes the norm of marriage, and the will of the Author of human life…and…is in opposition to the plan of God and His holy will.” Since he speaks in the name of the Church, the Pope is aware that he is “proclaiming humbly but firmly the entire moral law, both natural and evangelical. Since the Church did not make either of these laws, she cannot be their arbiter — only their guardian and interpreter. It could never be right for her to declare lawful what is in fact unlawful….” This moral law applied to marriage is imprescriptible.
These statements, which present the Pope’s intention in a very clear and incisive way, show that it is impossible to think that the conjugal morality contained in the encyclical Humanae Vitae could be revoked, i.e., considered fallible. One cannot even think of accepting the opinion of those who see in the encyclical Humanae Vitae only pastoral advice and directives — which would correspond to the educational role of the Church — and even less the opinion of those who want to see in the encyclical only an invitation to open up a debate on the issue of marital life and ethics (the encyclical would open a dialogue in which participants would be, in the name of collegiality, the bishops and the Pope).
These views are at odds with the clear and distinctive character of the document. Moreover, they are also harmful, since they imply that because of the revocable and therefore fallible character of the encyclical Humanae Vitae, everyone could, depending on the circumstances, form a different opinion, which would be for him the norm of his own actions. It cannot be tolerated that, after the encyclical Humanae Vitae, there is a state of uncertainty; in particular, it is not acceptable to affirm that this state of uncertainty is reinforced by the attitude of the Pope himself, since an impartial analysis of the text of Humanae Vitae demonstrates the exact opposite.
In light of this analysis of the content of the encyclical Humanae Vitae, we need to look more deeply at the opinions of those theologians who, in the teaching of the encyclical on conjugal morality — especially on the inadmissibility of contraception — see a revocable and, consequently, fallible teaching. In the eyes of these theologians, only solemn teaching ex cathedra is infallible and irrevocable. The result is such a restriction of the Magisterium in the sphere of moral problems as to make it irrelevant, given that extraordinary teaching (ex cathedra) in this type of issue has been used only in very rare cases.
It should be noted that these theologians, in their opinions, restrict the competence of the Church’s Magisterium in moral questions since they believe that, in the field of morality, judgments are by their very nature unstable and depend on the historically changeable character of human nature itself. They are convinced, moreover, that within the ambit of natural law, the Church’s Magisterium cannot issue coercive and definitive decisions, since it is a merely rational sphere of knowledge of man and the condition of his life. They have also called into question the competence of the Church’s Magisterium as it would not have been able to see the link between particular norms of Catholic moral doctrine and Revelation. They have therefore challenged certain moral principles taught by the Magisterium, justifying this attitude by the fact that these principles are not explicitly found in Sacred Scripture.
It would be useful to recall here the general principles enshrined in the First Synod of Bishops of 1967, which define the tasks of theologians in the Church and, in particular, their attitude towards the Magisterium and pastoral ministry.

III

The third part should deal with conscience and its relationship to the moral law. Conscience is the decisive and binding norm of human activity: It is binding, since man must act according to his own conscience, and it is decisive, since it constitutes the ultimate and direct element that guides human action. Nevertheless, while fully accepting the normative character of conscience, one cannot see in it the one and only norm, let alone a norm superior to the moral law. Attributing to conscience an autonomy that would give it not only a normative but also a legislative role, would be contrary to the foundations of both natural and revealed ethics. Such autonomy would be tantamount to accepting subjectivism and relativism in morality.
Now, subjectivism and relativism are in contradiction with true morality, especially with Christian morality, simply because these amount to the denial of objective moral good and evil and, consequently, of the specific function of conscience. It is, in fact, up to conscience to determine good and evil and to discern it according to the objective moral law.
The whole doctrinal tradition of the Church recognizes that the objective moral law is found in Revelation. It also recognizes that Revelation (particularly the Letter to the Romans, 2) affirms the existence of the natural moral law. This affirmation is of great importance for faith and theology, regardless of the different philosophical conceptions of natural law. When the Church, in her teaching of morals, refers to the natural law, she does not allude to any of these philosophical conceptions, but sees the natural law as an object of faith and theology. She regards it to be the foundation of the morality which, in turn, has been explicitly revealed. The specific norms of the moral law are accessible to human reason, which recognizes and accepts them as the foundation of morality.
The Church considers herself to be the guardian and teacher of these norms, for, although they were not the object of a special revelation, Revelation nevertheless confirms their existence and their binding force.

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