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Humanae Vitae IS Infallible Birth Control in the Catholic Church

N.F.
November 05, 2002, 01:32 PM
Humanae Vitae IS Infallible
Ed. and James: Let me rephrase and elaborate:

There are three modes in which infallible doctrinal teaching can be presented by the Magisterium:

1) by the Pope alone,
2) by the Pope and Bishops assembled together in an Ecumenical Council, or
3) by the College of Bishops (including the Pope as its head) even when they are dispersed throughout the world.

The Church's teaching against contraception is a classic example of this third mode of infallibility transmitting the doctrine of Christ.

While you correctly claim, that Humanae Vitae is not in itself an ex cathedra, infallible definition, you incorrectly fail to recognize that the teaching which it contains is infallible and irreformable, by virtue of having been taught constantly and definitively, over a period of many centuries, by a consensus of Popes and Bishops around the world - a consensus which was virtually unanimous until the early 1960s. Any single instance of affirming this doctrine might not in itself be authoritative enough to give us an absolute assurance of its truth; but the cumulative or combined weight of so many affirmations over an extensive period of time does give us that kind of assurance.
Humanae Vitae does not need the supportive corroborative testimony of other papal and episcopal statements in order to assure Catholics that its doctrinal position regarding contraception is immutable and irreformable.

You are inerror, but it is a prevalent error amongst even well-intentioned and orthodox Catholics. It is the idea that in order for a papal pronouncement to be infallible, in terms of Vatican I's conditions, it has to be a dogmatic definition: that is, the highest possible exercise of papal authority. Examples of this from the last century or so would be the dogmatic definitions of Mary's Immaculate Conception and Assumption by Popes Pius IX and Pius XII respectively. In a dogmatic definition we find a particularly solemn form of words (called the modus definitorius in Latin) employed in order to affirm that such-and-such a doctrine concerning faith or morals is revealed by God, and is a part of the Church's deposit of faith. As such, it must be believed with the assent of divine and Catholic faith, and willful doubt or denial of such defined dogma is formal heresy, carrying with it the juridical consequence of excommunication - placing oneself outside the Church.

It simply is not the teaching of either Vatican I or Vatican II that the Church's infallibility (which is enjoyed and exercised by the Pope alone under certain conditions) is limited to the field of dogma, that is, to the determination and promulgation of truths revealed by God in either Scripture or Tradition. Rather, infallibility also covers other truths which are closely linked to divine revelation, and which cannot be denied without endangering this deposit of revealed truth in some way. Examples of these closely related truths would be principles of the natural moral law - many of which are in any case revealed in Scripture as well. The natural law - to which even pagans have access in principle, as St. Paul teaches in Romans 1-2 - is the foundation on which the higher, supernatural law of Christ is based. Hence, the Church has always claimed a divine mandate to guard and interpret the natural law, as Paul VI affirms emphatically in Humanae Vitae.

Paul VI's intention was to hand down a decisive, final judgment on this issue - to settle the controversy once and for all. Or at least, since he foresaw that dissent and protest would in fact continue, his intention was to put an end to any objective grounds for uncertainty or wavering on this issue, on the part of faithful Catholics. JPII's position in Veritatis Splendor was to reaffirm Paul VI.

Papal infallibility is not limited to dogmatic definitions - i.e. judgments as to what is revealed (de fide) and what (in direct contrast) is heretical. Pope Pius IX and the Fathers of Vatican I promulgated the dogma of papal infallibility on the understanding that this prerogative of the Roman Pontiff also included the power to judge questions which are not in themselves matters of revealed truth, but closely related to revealed truth.

Why the papal birth control commission ?

If, after all this, the Pope had been wrong in his decision about contraception, what credibility would be left to the Catholic Church's claim that the Vicar of Christ enjoys a special and unique divine guidance to teach on these matters?

What Paul VI had in mind in referring to "the norms given by Pius XII" was the late Pontiff's final allocution on the subject of contraception, given just a month before his death in 1958. On that occasion Pius XII had expressed disapproval of a particular form of birth regulation which had not existed in the time of Pius XI: the newly-discovered "chemical" means of extending the period of infertility in a woman's cycle - i.e., the contraceptive "Pill." Some theologians who accepted Pius XI's strictures against unnatural methods of birth control were wondering whether perhaps this new intervention might not in fact fall under the ban of Pius XI, insofar as it did not entail - unlike condoms, "withdrawal" or diaphragms - any interference with the physical structure of the conjugal act.

This was the only question which might for a time have been seen by Paul VI as legitimately debatable: not the question of doctrine as to whether unnatural methods of birth control are ever acceptable, but the question of fact as to whether this new chemical invention should be classified as "unnatural" or not.

Get it? Such is the splendor of the truth. big grin

Earnestly,
N.F.
Editor
Member
November 06, 2002, 04:12 PM
N.F., the teaching on birth control meets none of the three scenarios you described. See James' thread on "Types of Infallibility" for further explication on this matter.
Hugh
(hugh.oregan_NO_SPAM@pobox.com)
Member
November 10, 2002, 08:58 AM
NF WROTE: “While you correctly claim, that Humanae Vitae is not in itself an ex cathedra, infallible definition, you incorrectly fail to recognize that the teaching which it contains is infallible and irreformable, by virtue of having been taught constantly and definitively, over a period of many centuries, by a consensus of Popes and Bishops around the world - a consensus which was virtually unanimous until the early 1960s. Any single instance of affirming this doctrine might not in itself be authoritative enough to give us an absolute assurance of its truth; but the cumulative or combined weight of so many affirmations over an extensive period of time does give us that kind of assurance.”

N.F., your argument smacks of the “creeping infallibility” which Schillebeeckx spoke about. The teachings contained in Humanae Vitae cannot and were not considered irreformable (infallible) by any of the modes of infallibility. The content of HV fails the test of irreformability on many levels. Not least of which is the fact that for a very large segment of the Church, laity and clergy, the teaching has not been received. Rahner writes in his “Magisterium and Theology” that the reception of Papal teaching by
The Church is absolutely essential in order to recognize the teaching as irreformable and already existing and essential to the faith of the Church. In HV we have an example of non-reception. It is this non-reception by huge numbers of Catholics which argues eloquently against any understanding that HV or the contents of HV could or should be considered irreformable.

The arguments supporting the content of HV remain open to theological critique. Catholics who find themselves in opposition to the Church’s fallible teaching against artificial means of contraception are not guilty of heresy. Catholics may disagree with the magisterium on this issue and remain faithful Catholics. More important, Catholics who attempt to teach that HV or its contents are irreformable go beyond what the Church herself teaches and depending on their own conscience may be guilty of heretical teaching themselves.

“No doctrine is understood to be infallibly defined
unless it is clearly established as such.” Can 749 #3

There are three understood modes of infallible teachings within the Church HV does not qualify under any of them. HV was never considered infallible when it was promulgated. Various bishops and responsible theologians immediately criticized the teaching. The HV encyclical distinguished itself almost immediately by the internal opposition of the faithful to its contents and argumentation.

Hugh
Dana
November 10, 2002, 05:42 PM
Way to go, Hugh!

I wish I would've thought of that creepy infallibility argument, myself. wink
Editor
Member
November 11, 2002, 10:13 AM
Hugh, you bring up a good point with "creeping infallibility." The latest ploy by the Vatican concerning certain controversial teachings is to have the CDF say that the Church has "infallibly taught" thus or so. As James has pointed out in another thread, the CDF has no authority whatsoever to pronounce anything as infallibly taught. Furthermore, I think they occasion confusion when they use this term, not to mention emboldening arch-conservatives with more fuel for their interminable polemics!

One could point to another kind of creeping infallibility, however, in the many bishops appointed by JPII during his near 24 + year tenure. There's little doubt that the teachings of the ordinary magisterium were sharply divided on artificial contraception when H.V. came out. But what about now? What if the Pope called for a referendum on this matter? It's entirely conceivable that they would come forward with a more universal condemnation of the practice. After all, they weren't appointed because they believed otherwise!!!

So what does this mean? Just because a Pope lives a long time and can stack the deck with like-minded bishops, does it follow that this reflects the belief of the Church?

I think not!

My understanding of infallibility is that it helps the Church to become more clear on what we actually DO believe, rather than what we SHOULD believe. Creeping infallibility is an example of the latter, and that's a distortion of the meaning and value of the doctrine of infallibility, in my view.
Hugh
(hugh.oregan_NO_SPAM@pobox.com)
Member
November 11, 2002, 05:04 PM
Ed. Well, various U.S. presidents have attempted to stack the Supreme Court with little success. I feel the same would be true if JPII were to call for a referendum today. I do agree that the Curia has been “packing” the body of bishops for years and that one of the litmus tests used for selection of a bishop was his submission and obedience to Humanae Vitae.

Still if a consensus was called for even today I am very certain that many bishops would vote not to uphold the content of Humanae Vitae.

Arch-conservatives do our Church no favor by attempting to push for an infallible status on this encyclical (or its contents). Those who do so fail to realize that the one event which could push Christ’s Church into total disarray would be to demonstrate by reason and logic one instance where an irreformable teaching of the Catholic Church could be proven to be incorrect.

Our Catholic Church and the Bark of Peter can weather almost any storm, in fact she has managed to weather many storms brought about by erroneous fallible teachings which needed correction. To her credit, she has corrected many such erroneous teachings and has moved on. Correcting ordinary teaching is one thing. Attempting to reform an irreformable teaching passes the bonds of credibility.

This is why I think that it is very important that serious Catholics speak up when arguments are put forth by well meaning fellow Catholics who attempt to play the “infallibility card” in theological argumentation.

Such Catholics play with fire.

Hugh
Editor
Member
November 12, 2002, 08:47 AM
Well said!
Points very well taken, Hugh. Thanks for taking the time to share them. I hope you'll drop in here regularly. smile
Editor
Member
November 21, 2002, 08:31 AM
Good quote from a good book, Jill! Thanks for sharing it.

We already have a discussion about infallibility going on this thread and this one.

Maybe we can keep discussions on this topic confined to one.

I'll ask the Admin. to close this thread and see if it can be moved to one of the others so we don't end up saying the same things again and again.

Let's hear more from you on one of those other threads on infallibility.
Admin
(dialogue@dialogue.infopop.cc)
Administrator
November 21, 2002, 08:33 AM
I'm online and will see to this at once.