The Inspiration: Humanae Vitae
The Creighton Model and NaProTechnology have become so much more than an NFP method, and are beneficial to women and couples of any background or faith. However, the founding doctor of the Creighton Model, Dr. Hilgers, was inspired to begin his research by Blessed Pope Paul VI’s encyclical letter on the regulation of birth, Humanae Vitae. In this letter, Blessed Pope Paul VI reaffirmed the traditional Catholic teaching that contraception and abortion are immoral. Blessed Pope Paul VI asked scientists to help clarify the nature of our fertility so that couples could morally regulate their offspring – and the Creighton Model is a direct response to that request.
I encourage you to read the entire document – although it was written in 1968, it is very relevant to us today. It can be found here.
I’d like to offer some reflections on Humanae Vitae. I received a lot of insight on this topic from the book “Why Humanae Vitae was Right: a Reader” which was edited by Janet E. Smith.
Scripture tells us that God created us in His image (Gn 1:27), and that we are wonderfully made (Ps 139:14). God created us as men and women, and this goodness of God’s creation surely also includes our fertility. While we may understand the biology of how human life begins, there is still mystery in how God allows us to be co-creators of new life with Him using the marital act. God is present at the moment of conception for there is not a moment of our life when He has not willed us into being.
With contraception, couples strive for the ultimate control of the creation of human life and reject God’s sovereignty. A person who chooses contraception is unable to love and accept their entire spouse, but is rejecting their fertile nature. Such refusal to fully know and accept one’s spouse undermines the marriage. Although both spouses may agree on accepting this reduced nature, they are missing out on the peace and trust that are built upon the knowledge that you are fully and completely loved.
With natural family planning, couples gain knowledge of the cyclic pattern of fertility and infertility that were designed by God. They can gratefully accept the natural periods of infertility if they decide to avoid conceiving a child. The church does not teach that a couple must have as many children as biologically possible, but they are called to responsible parenthood. While couples using contraceptives and NFP may both be trying to limit their family size for prudent reasons, there is a profound difference in the method. Just as there is a difference in the morality of working versus stealing to feed one’s family, there is a difference in the morality of contraception versus periodic abstinence to avoid a pregnancy.
Some people view procreation as a biological action, and wonder why it is okay to modify nature in some instances (surgery for a disease or defect) and not others (suppressing one’s fertility). Fertility is not a disease or a defect – it is part of God’s master plan for all of mankind. God’s creative mystery is present in the procreative marital act and we do not have the authority to render the marital act infertile.
Until 1930, all of the Christian churches taught that any form of contraception was immoral. The Catholic Church has continued to be steadfast in this teaching which used to be universal.
The Church’s teaching on the immorality of contraception is challenging, and is seen by many as a sign that the Church is unwilling or unable to move into the modern age. Yet much of Christian life is challenging – why should we expect the proper use of our fertility to be any different? Abstinence, self-control, and self-mastery may take time and practice to develop just like any art or virtue. The blessings that come from mastering a virtue are always worth the effort.
When we faithfully live out the norms taught in Humanae Vitae, we are able to provide authentic witness to our children. For if we are unable to practice chastity and periodically abstain from the marital act when we have serious reason to avoid pregnancy, then how can we expect our children to totally abstain as required by the chaste single life?